State halts permits for Northampton, Brookline medical marijuana dispensaries after background check reveals possible falsified resume

Last modified: Friday, August 15, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Plans for the only medical marijuana dispensary in Hampshire County are halted as state officials get to the bottom of whether the company’s executive director lied about his educational credentials.

Gov. Deval Patrick said Wednesday the state has put on hold facilities in Northampton, Brookline and Franklin planned by New England Treatment Access Inc. amid allegations that its leader, Kevin Fisher, may have lied about his educational experience at two universities in Ohio.

“Our goal is ensuring that patients have access to the highest quality dispensaries,” Alec Loftus, a spokesman for the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said Thursday. “As the governor has said, if someone lied on their application they will not get a license. New England Treatment Access’s application is on hold until they are able to suitably address this issue.”

In January, the state Department of Public Health awarded 20 provisional certificates of registration for medical marijuana dispensaries in 10 of the state’s 14 counties. Fisher’s company scored the second highest among 100 applications reviewed by the state. However, Creative Services Inc., a company hired by the state to conduct background checks, informed state officials in April that it could not verify that Fisher had received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Youngstown State University as his resume states, according to Loftus.

The questionable degree did not stop the Department of Public Health from allowing the company and 10 others to advance to an inspectional phase in the licensing process during late June. At the time, 11 of the 20 companies were allowed to advance “following the successful completion of the Department’s Verification Phase, which included enhanced background checks and information verification,” the DPH announced on June 27.

“Those advancing have passed comprehensive background checks and investigative reviews,” Karen van Unen, executive director of the Department of Public Health Medical Use of Marijuana Program, said in a statement at the time.

The state is now examining whether Fisher spent two years at Miami University in Ohio, as his resume states, or whether he dropped out after his freshman year, as the Boston Globe reported Tuesday.

Fisher, of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, who already runs a medical marijuana center and retail marijuana outlet in that state, could not be reached for comment by phone or email Thursday. He told the Globe in an interview this week that he believes he has a college degree but was not able to access his transcripts at Youngstown State University because he owes the school thousands of dollars.

“I graduated college, but I’m not getting my transcripts right now,” he told the Globe.

Loftus said DPH put the application by New England Treatment Access on hold Wednesday morning. Asked why the state did not take such action in April when Creative Services Inc. discovered questions about Fisher’s degree, Loftus said the consultant confronted Fisher about his degree and got an explanation that he owed the school money and therefore could not access his transcripts to officially verify that he had received a diploma.

“Additional information came to light and it was learned that Mr. Fisher may not have the credits to have the degree at all,” Loftus said.

Loftus said no medical marijuana dispensary licenses have been granted to date and that DPH is still in the phase of conducting comprehensive operational reviews before any dispensaries can open.

“Background checks on dispensaries remain part of our ongoing oversight, and if further information is uncovered that impacts an applicant’s ability to provide high-quality patient access, the program will take action,” Loftus said in an email. “The background checks are ongoing because the individuals making up an applicant’s proposed staff may change, and new additions require that new background checks be opened.”

New England Treatment Access beat out three other companies that sought to open dispensaries in Northampton and Easthampton. It planned to open a dispensary in a former medical office building at 118 Conz St. in Northampton, received initial approval to open another dispensary in Brookline and plans to operate a cultivating plant in Franklin.

According to its application with the state, New England Treatment Access anticipates 1,600 patients at both dispensaries in its first year. Those patients 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, according to its application.

In addition to Fisher, other members of the company’s executive management team include Arnon Vered, its chief financial officer, and Leslie Tarr Laurie, the founder of Tapestry Health in Northampton who resigned from her position as executive director there in January. Andy Epstein, a former special assistant to the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health who helped design the medical marijuana program, also is on the company’s team serving as patient education and medical director, according to its application with the state.

If the state denies the application of New England Treatment Access for dispensaries over questions about the veracity of its application, other applicants said they would still be interested in a obtaining a license in Hampshire County.

Among them is Hampshire Health Inc., led by Brian P. Foote, which sought to open a dispensary at the same Conz Street site as New England Treatment Access.

“I don’t know how the DPH is going to react,” Foote said about the situation. “With a service that is medical in nature and a community engaged service, I think honesty and integrity are incredibly important.”

Foote said if there was an opportunity for Hampshire Health to move forward again in the licensing process, “I don’t think we would hesitate at all.”

He added, “We have our investment backing and our board members are willing and able to go forward with this.”

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.