Monday, August 18, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — As work continued Friday inside the Conz Street building where a medical marijuana dispensary is planned, the city’s top politicians said they hope controversy surrounding the educational credentials of the company’s executive director is ironed out quickly.
Otherwise, patients may have to travel to eastern Massachusetts for medicinal help until a decision is made about who will run Hampshire County’s dispensary.
The state Department of Public Health on Wednesday halted dispensaries in Northampton and Brookline and a growing facility in Franklin planned by New England Treatment Access Inc. The state is investigating whether Kevin Fisher lied about his educational experience at two universities in Ohio.
City Council President William H. Dwight has met several times over the last year with Fisher and others involved with New England Treatment about its proposal. Dwight said Friday that he viewed the infractions, if true, as minor and of little significance to Fisher’s ability to run a medical marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts.
“We have a number of elected officials who have padded their resumes and it’s not affected their ability to perform their jobs,” Dwight said. “In the annals of crime, this is about as minor and victimless as it gets.”
Dwight said he is most concerned that the investigation into Fisher will delay the opening of the only planned dispensary to serve western Massachusetts — no matter who ends up running it — and force people to the next closest dispensary miles away in the Metrowest community of Milford.
If the state does disqualify New England Treatment, Dwight hopes that it puts on a fast-track consideration of other qualified applicants for the Hampshire County dispensary who were not selected earlier this year.
“Clearly, the state and governor are erring on the side of caution,” Dwight said. “Hopefully this will get cleared up soon.”
On the other hand, Jesse M. Adams, the council’s vice president, does not view the news as a minor development. He expressed “extreme concern” that the head of the group that wants to dispense marijuana may have lied on an application to the state.
“There are ethics involved in distributing medicine,” Adams said. “Being untruthful in any application process is concerning to me.”
Adams added that if Fisher is found to have falsified his resume, it would be “extremely unfair” to Hampshire Health, one of the other groups that did not advance earlier this year. He believes that group should get a second look given its strong application and emphasis on local leadership.
Fisher did not respond to requests for comment Thursday and Friday, but earlier this week he told the Boston Globe 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. The state is also examining whether Fisher spent two years at Miami University in Ohio, as his resume states, or whether he dropped out after his freshman year.
Two other members of New England Treatment’s executive team, Arnon Vered and Leslie Tarr Laurie, also did not respond to phone messages and emails seeking comment Friday. Vered is the company’s chief financial officer and Laurie is the founder of Tapestry Health in Northampton who resigned from her position as executive director in January.
Hampshire Health’s top official reiterated Friday that his group is ready to move ahead in the application process if the state allows it to do so. But Brian P. Foote also expressed reservations about the process the state used to remove Hampshire Health from the running earlier this year. Foote said state officials penalized the company on minor infractions and clerical errors that, if corrected, would have put his group in the top five.
“How does the company doing the scoring dock us, but not the CEO of another company lying on his education?” Foote said. “We were just a little bit at a loss of confidence in the process.”
Mayor David J. Narkewicz said he does not have enough information to be able to comment on the controversy surrounding Fisher, although he said the group has been very cooperative and professional in its dealings with the city and open with the community about its plans. He said New England Treatment has assembled a sophisticated team with experience running similar operations in Colorado. Fisher, of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, already runs a medical marijuana center and retail marijuana outlet in that state.
That said, Narkewicz understands why the state is putting companies that want to dispense a controlled substance under a microscope. “I think they are trying to hold applications to the highest possible standards,” he said.
Delaying the opening of a dispensary in Northampton would be a disservice to people who have been waiting for some time to buy marijuana for an array of medical ailments, Dwight said.
Although he acknowledges that the state is following through on its promise to carefully review the applications for marijuana dispensaries, Dwight said he wishes the state would have taken similar tough stances in other areas including casino licenses.
“I am going to be disappointed if this was used to throttle down dispensaries in the state to a negligible few” in the Boston area, Dwight said.
Adams also wants to see a dispensary open as soon as possible. “If there’s a delay in opening a dispensary and people aren’t getting medicine, that worries me,” he said.
When the state Department of Public Health announced in June that a dispensary proposed for Holyoke could not move forward, that left New England Treatment’s plan for a facility at 118 Conz St. in Northampton as the only one left in the running for the 824,000 people who live in western Massachusetts. A group wanting to open a dispensary in Worcester was also eliminated in June.
New England Treatment beat out two other companies in addition to Hampshire Health that sought to open dispensaries in Northampton and Easthampton.
Chad Cain can be reached at email@example.com.