Tuesday, August 19, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — The executive director of the company planning to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Northampton and Brookline resigned over the weekend after misrepresenting his academic credentials in an application to the state.
In a letter of resignation to the board of New England Treatment Access, Inc. dated Aug. 16, Kevin Fisher acknowledged information on his resume regarding his coursework and college degree at two universities in Ohio was erroneous.
“It is with a heavy heart that I have arrived at this decision,” Fisher of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, wrote in his resignation letter. “But given the current climate regarding the error I included in my resume, I feel that this action is necessary to ensure that NETA’s mission to deliver the highest quality patient and cannabis therapies continue unencumbered.”
Fisher, who runs a medical marijuana center and marijuana retail outlet in Colorado, did not respond to phone calls or emails from the Gazette seeking comment Friday or Monday.
Kevin Fisher Resignation Letter
At issue is whether Fisher spent two years studying at Miami University and whether he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Youngstown State University as his resume claims. Creative Services, Inc., which the state hired to conduct background checks, was not able to confirm Fisher’s stated educational experience.
The consulting firm asked Fisher about the questionable college degree in April. At the time, Fisher said he owed Youngstown State University thousands of dollars and would not be able to access his transcripts to verify receipt of a diploma, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Nevertheless, the Department of Public Health allowed Fisher’s company to advance through what it described as a comprehensive background check phase, but during the past week, new questions were raised about Fisher’s academic experience, according to the Department of Public Health.
The issue prompted public health officials last week to put a hold on the company’s plans for two dispensaries and a cultivating plant in Franklin; a move Gov. Deval Patrick made public while fielding questions from the news media.
In his letter to the company’s board, Fisher wrote that he is concerned what a hold up in establishing dispensaires might mean to patients. Without New England Treatment Access’ participation in the state’s medical marijuana program, he wrote, “qualifying patients will be forced to forego services essential to their health and well-being far longer than they already have, and interminably longer than they deserve.
“To threaten the board’s shared vision of service to this initiative for the sake of my role alone is not acceptable for me.”
In a subsequent letter to the Department of Public Health, Arnon Vered, of Swampscott, the company’s chief financial officer, wrote that the board of New England Treatment Access had accepted Fisher’s resignation and that he, Vered, is now the company’s executive director and chief operating officer.
“We regret that the discrepancy in Mr. Fisher’s resume has caused a distraction from the mission of the Department of Public Health to provide qualifying patients with access to the highest quality dispensaries possible,” Vered wrote to Karen van Unen, executive director of the health department’s Medical Use of Marijuana Program. “While we have confidence in Mr. Fisher’s expertise, experience, and achievements in Colorado, we understand that his mistake, though perhaps unintentional, was careless.”
As of Monday, Fisher’s resignation had not changed the status of New England Treatment Access’ bid for a medical marijuana dispensary license. It is still on hold., though the health deparment is reviewing the proposed management changes, Alec Loftus, a spokesman for the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services said.
New England Treatment Access is one of 11 companies who in June advanced to an inspection phase as part of the state’s licensing process. It is the only company with plans for a medical marijuana dispensary in Hampshire County. The company has proposed to operate its Northampton dispensary in a former medical office building at 118 Conz St. Contractors were on site Monday, where renovations have been ongoing.
Attempts to reach Veren for comment Monday were unsuccessful, but in his Saturday letter to the Department of Public Health, he said he wanted to ensure state regulators that New England Treatment Access is not based on Fisher alone, but on the strength of a team that includes experts in patient education, security, cultivation, not-for-profit management and retail management. He assured state officials Fisher will no longer be serving as a member, director or officer of the company and will have no role in its governance.
Among the other members of the management team are Leslie Tarr Laurie, the founder of Tapestry Health in Northampton, who resigned from her position as executive director there in January, as well as Andy Epstein, a former special assistant to the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health who helped design the medical marijuana program.
According to its application with the state, New England Treatment Access anticipates 1,600 patients at its dispensaries in its first year during which time they would receive approximately 2,000 pounds of marijuana cultivated in Franklin.
The company predicts it would generate $9.8 million in revenue in its first year and spend $9.1 million with a net profit of $702,000.
NETA Letter Accepting Fisher's Resignation
In his correspondence to the state this weekend, Veren stated the company is on track to be among the first to open dispensaries in Massachusetts and its cultivation and processing facility is only weeks away from being ready for inspection. The company has budgeted to hire 50 employees, he wrote.
New England Treatment Access “has already made deep investments in critical products and services that will be very beneficial to qualifying patients seeking access to the highest quality therapies,” Veren’s letter states. “ ... Continuing to keep NETA’s license on hold would have a negative impact on the timely availability of needed therapies for registered qualifying patients. It would also have an adverse effect on those communities counting on the economic benefits that will come with our cultivation and registered medical marijuana dispensaries in the form of jobs, spending and revenue.”
Dan Crowley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.