It wasn't entirely shocking that there was a heavy eastern orientation to the 20 medical marijuana clinics granted licenses by the state Department of Public Health last week as that is a too-familiar Massachusetts reality. But only two in Western Massachusetts and none in Berkshire County? That reality raises suspicions that the deck was totally stacked against the five Berkshire applicants.
The applicants selected were to a large degree large, eastern Massachusetts groups from heavily populated communities that, as Michael Marino, whose Prospect Lake Incorporated proposed a facility in Great Barrington noted in an email to The Eagle, could finance more elaborate, if not necessarily better, facilities than could smaller Berkshire applicants. William Delahunt, a former Democratic U.S. congressman from Cape Cod who is currently chief executive of Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts, won licenses for all three of the clinics he is backing. His influence and friendship with state Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett prompted the state Republican Party to call for an independent commission to be created to make the clinic choices, a call that went unheeded.
In another oddity, six applicants that received high marks from the DPH but did not win licenses were urged by the department to pursue a change of venue to one of the four counties that did not have winning applicants, the largest of which in terms of population is Berkshire County. This suggests an effort to enable eastern applicants who did not make the grade to set up business elsewhere, specifically areas that they know nothing about in terms of politics, geography, neighborhoods, the needs of the community or any other relevant factor in terms of placement of a medical marijuana facility.
Berkshire County will be getting a medical marijuana clinic, perhaps more than one, and there are obvious advantages to clinics whose applicants have tailored their proposals for specific spots in Berkshire communities. What the DPH should do before it approves any more licenses is tell the five Berkshire applicants specifically where they were found lacking and give them an opportunity to respond to those concerns. At this point it is the DPH process that is lacking and is failing the political smell test.