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.”
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.
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.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.
The commission cannot issue any licenses before June 1.