Patriot Care Corporation, which is seeking a license to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the Berkshires in the absence of any Berkshire applicants approved by the state, may be as every bit as qualified as CEO Robert Mayerson made his organization sound in Tuesday’s Berkshire Eagle. The selection process, however, was so badly botched it is impossible to proceed any further, especially given the revelations in Tuesday’s Boston Globe. The only way forward is with a do-over.
In an editorial of Jan. 15, The Berkshire Eagle described as "odd" the last minute decision of the state Department of Public Health to shift the responsibility for selecting the licensees for medical marijuana clinics from the state public health commissioner, Cheryl Bartlett, to veteran public health official Karen van Unen. The background for that odd decision is becoming clear. The Globe reported Tuesday that Ms. Bartlett did not disclose until the final weeks of the selection process that she held fund-raisers in 2005 and 2006 for then-U.S. Representative William Delahunt, whose group was applying for three medical marijuana licenses. Ms. van Unen was given final decision-making authority in mid-January and at the end of January, Mr. Delahunt’s group was the only applicant to be awarded three licenses.
It’s obvious that this shift in decision-making authority was in anticipation of criticism of conflict of interest in the selection process, but it came far too late. The process was already marred by the eastern bias of the selections, as none of the five Berkshire applicants were awarded licenses and other applicants, like Harvard, Massachusetts-based Patriot Care, were invited by the DPH to fill the resulting gap. It has now been further marred by the appearance of a politically based conflict of interest, the age-old bane of the governing process in Massachusetts.
As there is no undoing this mess it should be scrapped, with the licenses awarded pulled back and the selection process begun anew by an independent committee, its members perhaps appointed by a legislative committee. Yes, this will delay the process of instituting clinics in the state but this has to be done right, as the clinics chosen may be operating for decades in communities around the state, including the Berkshires. The best applicants must be chosen in a process devoid of favoritism and eastern bias.