Pot board red-faced over green light

Cannabis commission inadvertently approved 10 applicants recommended for denial

THE STATE BOARD overseeing the nascent pot industry in Massachusetts had been running smoothly in its first months of operation. But as the most critical aspect of its mission began – giving thumbs up or down to applications for marijuana sales and cultivation – the commission hit a glitch when 10 suitors for licenses were told they would be on the fast-track for certification when they actually had been recommended for denial.

“Any mistake is a big deal,” said Steven Hoffman, chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission. “It’s a mistake, but it’s a mistake we recognized quickly and then got it right. I’m not happy with making mistakes, but I am happy with how the commission responded.”

Steven Hoffman, chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission.

Since the middle of last month, the commission has been in the process of culling through the more than 800 applications it has received for “priority certification” from medical marijuana dispensaries and those businesses and individuals identified as economic empowerment applicants who get favored treatment.

Under the regulations, those who are approved for priority certification pass go in the first essential step in the licensing process and move to the top of the list to begin completing the application and have it considered by the board for licensing for sales, manufacturing, and cultivation.

Shawn Collins, the commission’s executive director, said at Tuesday’s weekly meeting that one of the recent batches of recommendations inadvertently listed 10 applicants for approval when, in fact, they had been denied. Collins said a transcription error caused the names to be entered in the Excel sheet listing recommendations for approval and then, when the commission voted on the batch en masse, those that had been intended for denial instead received the go-ahead.

Collins said the error was caught before any of the 10 had moved forward in the application process. He recommended the commission approve a motion to pull the applicants off the approved list and revote to deny them at the next meeting. Neither Collins nor the commission released the names of the applicants or what batch they had been approved in. Hoffman said the reasons they had been denied varied from applicant to applicant.

Commissioner Shaleen Title praised the staff for alerting the board to the errors, but expressed dismay that the applicants were under the impression they had moved forward in the process. She said if the board operated like a private entity, there would be some “make good” effort, but acknowledged that state regulations are more unforgiving.

“I feel pretty awful about those candidates,” she said.

Hoffman, who has a business background in venture capitalism and corporate management, said the error gave the applicants nothing and reverting them to a “denied” status takes nothing away. He said those who were denied because of an incomplete application will have a five-day window to fix their applications and seek reconsideration. And he acknowledged mistakes are going to happen, especially with a short staff working with new regulations governing an emerging industry.

“Zero defect is an aspiration, not a reality,” he said.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

The commission also gave approval to priority certification for the last two dispensaries that applied before the April 15 deadline as well as another 27 “empowerment” applicants. Those candidates have to meet at least three of six qualifications showing they are members of a group or community that had been disproportionately impacted by laws that made marijuana illegal.

Collins also reported that since the process had been opened to “non-priority” applicants, more than 530 people and companies had opened accounts to apply and 57 applications are pending, including 15 for cultivation and 14 for retails sales.

The commission cannot issue any licenses before June 1.