SPRINGFIELD – The state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services has denied a Holyoke collective headed by Heriberto Flores a provisional license for a medical marijuana dispensary because of disparaging findings issued by the state auditor in May.
A lawyer for Flores, a real estate developer and head of multiple non-profits to help the poor, called the decision improper and unfair.
According to a letter from Karen van Unen, executive director of the Medical Use of Marijuana Program, charged with licensing and overseeing the dispensaries, she deemed Flores “not responsible or suitable to operate a medical marijuana dispensary.”
The letter flagged what the auditors suggested were inflated $900,000 salaries as the presidents of New England Farm Workers Council, “one of Mr. Flores’ many non-profits,” the letter read, and as CEO of an affiliated non-profit. He collected $450,000 from each organization. The letter noted that the auditor concluded the combined salaries exceeded the maximum reimbursable amounts under state law.
The letter also noted that Partners for Community, the second non-profit Flores heads, had “no time sheets or other records that supported the hours Mr. Flores allegedly worked at (New England Farm Workers) to support his full-time status.”
Further, van Unen wrote that during an interview with state officials, “Flores did not take accountability for the audit findings and made statements such as ‘ I push the envelope’ and ‘they were on a witch hunt.'”
A statement by Flores’ lawyer, William M. Bennett, reads, in part:
“I am confident that once the process in complete that (the council) and Mr. Flores will be fully vindicated. The failure to allow DMC’s application to proceed at this time, or to delay action on the application until the review of the auditor’s report has been completed is very unfortunate and very harmful to all who have worked so hard to bring the project to fruition,” Bennett wrote. “All legal options available to DMC and Mr. Flores are now being considered.”
The news came during a Friday press conference where state Department of Health officials announced 11 dispensary applicants will move forward to the inspection phase since the completion of the verification process that included background checks.
Applications for medical marijuana dispensary in Western Massachusetts that are moving forward are that by New England Treatment Access Inc. in Northampton and Patriot Care Corp., which plans a marijuana growing facility in South Hadley with the dispensary in Lowell.
Officials have identified applicants eligible to apply for dispensaries in counties that don’t have one, including Berkshire County. That application process begins July 9.
“This process is designed to ensure only the highest quality applicants advance to meet the patient access and public safety needs of the Commonwealth,” said van Unen in a statement released later. “Those advancing have passed comprehensive background checks and investigative reviews.”
During the verification process, investigative firm Creative Services, Inc. (CSI) completed 176 enhanced individual and corporate background checks on investors, staff and related companies, and conducted investigative interviews with applicants to verify all information submitted as part of their applications, according to a release from the department.
Additionally, the health department contacted more than 200 individuals to verify applicants’ representation of local support. The department also closely reviewed each applicant’s business and operational plans, investor lists, source of funds and investments and information resulting from any background checks.
The results of these reviews were used by the executive director to determine which applicants were suitable to advance to the inspection phase. Before dispensaries are allowed to open, the department will conduct safety and quality inspections.
In addition, applicants must complete municipal approval processes.
Officials said some of the approved dispensaries maybe open by November.
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