STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - THURSDAY, FEB. 27, 2014

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

HOUSE CHAIR AWAITS DPH RESPONSE ON MED MARIJUANA QUESTIONS

Nearly a week after asking state public health officials a series of questions about the medical marijuana licensing process, a House lawmaker charged with investigating the agency said Thursday he had not heard back yet from the Department of Public Health. "I'm still waiting for them to respond and we're going to take it from there," Rep. Jeff Sanchez (D-Jamaica Plain), co-chairman of the Public Health Committee, told the News Service, saying he was not surprised the agency had not responded yet due to the volume of questions he submitted in his letter. "Right now it's just us trying to get a handle at how they arrived at the decisions," said Sanchez. The department recently announced 20 provisional licensees but is continuing to vet those companies in the face of complaints about a tainted process featuring inaccurate information on applications and the possibility that political connections or conflicts of interest played a role in decision-making. Sanchez said he had no current plans to hold a hearing on licensing issues, but wouldn't rule one out. "Everything's possible," he said. Other states with medical marijuana laws have all had "some sort of issue" with licensing, Sanchez said. He added, "In a perfect world, prescriptions would be filled at a pharmacy, but that's not the case. It works outside of the established system that we have. It's completely different." In his letter, Sanchez said he had been asked by Speaker Robert DeLeo to "look deeper into the medical marijuana dispensary application and licensing process, particularly in light of recent news reports of misinformation, conflicts of interest, and other issues surrounding the selection process." Sanchez requested information on differences between provisional and final licenses, application review and scoring procedures, plans to ensure the veracity of information, punitive actions, vendor contract and responsibilities and evaluation of political relationships during the selection process. DeLeo this week said he favors restarting the licensing process. - M. Norton/SHNS

Nearly a week after asking state public health officials a series of questions about the medical marijuana licensing process, a House lawmaker charged with investigating the agency said Thursday he had not heard back yet from the Department of Public Health. "I'm still waiting for them to respond and we're going to take it from there," Rep. Jeff Sanchez (D-Jamaica Plain), co-chairman of the Public Health Committee, told the News Service, saying he was not surprised the agency had not responded yet due to the volume of questions he submitted in his letter. "Right now it's just us trying to get a handle at how they arrived at the decisions," said Sanchez. The department recently announced 20 provisional licensees but is continuing to vet those companies in the face of complaints about a tainted process featuring inaccurate information on applications and the possibility that political connections or conflicts of interest played a role in decision-making. Sanchez said he had no current plans to hold a hearing on licensing issues, but wouldn't rule one out. "Everything's possible," he said. Other states with medical marijuana laws have all had "some sort of issue" with licensing, Sanchez said. He added, "In a perfect world, prescriptions would be filled at a pharmacy, but that's not the case. It works outside of the established system that we have. It's completely different." In his letter, Sanchez said he had been asked by Speaker Robert DeLeo to "look deeper into the medical marijuana dispensary application and licensing process, particularly in light of recent news reports of misinformation, conflicts of interest, and other issues surrounding the selection process." Sanchez requested information on differences between provisional and final licenses, application review and scoring procedures, plans to ensure the veracity of information, punitive actions, vendor contract and responsibilities and evaluation of political relationships during the selection process. DeLeo this week said he favors restarting the licensing process. - M. Norton/SHNS

A divided Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted Thursday to issue the first license under the state's 2011 expanding gambling law, voting 3-2 for a slots-only casino in the town of Plainville. The developers behind the proposal, Penn National Gaming, immediately said they do not see any major areas of concern with conditions sought by the commission on the license. About 120 employees currently work at Plainridge Park, a harness racing facility that has proposed a $225 million gaming operation they plan to call Plainridge Park Casino. According to Penn National, the 106,000 square foot facility will feature live harness racing and simulcast betting along with 1,250 slot machines, an upscale restaurant, a four-venue food court, and the Doug Flutie Sports Bar. The Plainville proposal prevailed over slots proposals offered by developers in Raynham and Leominster. "We want to acknowledge our fellow applicants in this race who put forth very competitive proposals and, as we know, a lot of time, energy and resources into their applications," Penn National Gaming CEO Tim Wilmott said in a statement. The commission conditioned the license on acceptance of 18 licensing conditions and asked Penn to confirm its acceptance of the conditions during a meeting Friday in Boston at 9:30 a.m., when a final vote to award the license is scheduled. The group pushing a petition to repeal the state's casino law issued a statement alleging that "slot barns" are "actually bad for economic development, devaluing nearby homes, offering jobs with wages that for the most part fall just barely above the poverty line, and increasing crime rates." - M. Norton/SHNS

BARRETT: MEDIA REPORTS HELPFUL TO EFFORTS TO REVIEW DCF

While calling the information "upsetting," the Senate chair of the committee overseeing the Department of Children and Families said Thursday that a stream of media reports documenting problems at the state's child protection agency should be tremendously helpful to the effort to improve operations. Sen. Michael Barrett said information uncovered by the media should be useful to the work of the Children's Welfare League of America, which has been retained by the Patrick administration for a comprehensive review of the department, which first came under fire in connection with the case of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, a child whose case was mishandled by the agency and who is now feared dead. The Boston Herald reported Thursday on the case of a Cape Cod foster child under the agency's watch who has been missing for more than six weeks. The Boston Globe reported Thursday that "as many as hundreds of children in Massachusetts' welfare system are missing, including 134 foster children as young as 13 who the state lists as 'on the run.' " Both articles referenced assurances from DCF Commissioner Olga Roche that no other children under the agency's watch were missing. - M. Norton/SHNS