BOSTON – A judge has upheld the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s decision to deny medical marijuana dispensary licenses to three companies, including one in Western Massachusetts, based on background checks of their employees.
JM Farm’s Patient Group, which wants to open a dispensary in Deerfield, had joined Beacon Wellness Center and Mass Organic Therapy in a lawsuit aimed at forcing the state to give them provisional licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries.
Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger last month ruled in favor of the state. “By allowing the Plaintiffs to reenter the licensing process, this court would substitute its own reasoning for DPH’s,” Brieger wrote in her decision. “Every future applicant denied provisional licensure would seek a similar ‘second bite of the apple’ in the courts, resulting in a even more sluggardly administrative process.”
The dispensaries had argued that the decision by DPH not to grant them a license was “arbitrary and capricious” because the dispensaries met every condition DPH set. All three companies said they scored higher than other successful applicants during a ranking process, but their applications were deferred until they dealt with personnel matters that turned up during background checks. Each company severed ties with the individual in question, but was denied a license anyway.
Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office, which represents DPH, argued that the problems uncovered in the background checks were enough of a reason to deny the licenses.
Brieger wrote that DPH explicitly stated that it denied the license because of the background checks, and the department “has broad discretion” in making licensing decisions. The judge wrote that JM Farm’s and the other companies can still participate in the next round of medical marijuana applications, which is scheduled to begin after Jan. 31, 2015.
Several unsuccessful medical marijuana companies have sued the state over its licensing process, which has been marred by problems. So far, judges have generally sided with the state.
The JM Farm’s suit was significant for Western Massachusetts, which until recently, had no approved dispensaries moving forward. Last Friday, however, DPH granted preliminary approval to Patriot Care Corporation to go ahead with building a medical marijuana dispensary in Greenfield. DPH also removed a “hold” that had been placed on New England Treatment Access, which plans to build a dispensary in Northampton.
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