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Medical Marijuana

JM Farm’s Patient Group questions state DPH selection process

DEERFIELD — In their bid for a state medical marijuana license, JM Farm’s Patient Group, one of three companies to apply for Franklin County, had done everything required of them by state Department of Public Health regulators, the nonprofit’s director says.

It had community support, secured a lease on an accessible dispensing site right off Interstate 91, recruited one of the country’s most experienced medical marijuana consultants and received one of the highest scores (141 out of a potential 160) on its state application.

The group was floored when the state DPH rejected their bid in January to open a dispensary in Deerfield and left Franklin County temporarily without a provisional licensee.

However, after the rejection, new JM Farm’s Executive Director Theresa Creeden says the state invited JM Farm to a debriefing meeting in February, at which regulators told the group that if it replaced then-executive director James Pasiecnik of Whately, they would still be in the running.

In the Jan. 31 letter, Executive Director of the Medical Use of Marijuana Program Karen van Unen wrote, “your application is deferred from proceeding further in the review process pending resolution of a matter discovered on a background check involving an individual identified in your application.”

JM Farm quickly accepted the resignation of Pasiecnik, who had an assault charge on his record, replacing him with Creeden, who lives in Stoughton. She is an experienced nonprofit leader and partner in the accounting firm Sandberg and Creeden PC. The group also changed the principal office to Stoughton in its corporate status on file with the Secretary of State’s office.

Two days after the meeting with DPH, the nonprofit members hand-delivered the updated application to Boston with the understanding that it wouldn’t interrupt their application process, Creeden said. They were told by regulators that they’d hear back at the end of the week.

That end of the week turned from February into June.

In June, the state announced 11 nonprofits to get provisional licenses. A second time, despite assurances from the state, JM Farm did not get a license and Franklin County was once again left waiting in the wings.

Other companies that were asked to remove executives, however, did win initial approval of their applications in January and again in June, Creeden said.

JM Farm’s Patient Group is one of five medical marijuana companies that have made public this week the state’s action to give them deferred statuses and renege on its promise without any explanation.

“We inquired several times,” Creeden said. “We get a blanket response that says you were not selected. We continue to approach DPH and they continue to not respond.

“This process kept changing and now they are not responding at all. DPH is a public agency that is not talking to the people,” Creeden said. “All we see is a political cover-up.”

Legal action against the state?

The four other companies are Mass Organic Therapy Inc. of Plymouth with a score of 158, Baystate Medical Enterprises Inc. of Franklin with a score of 152, Kind Medical Inc. of Easthampton with a score of 148 and BeWell Organic Medicine Inc. of Lawrence with a score of 137.

The five companies are now planning to have informal discussions about what they can do next and they are investigating legal action, Creeden said.

Whether JM Farm decides to sue the state depends on whether it finds out why its application was rejected, Creeden said.

“It’s hard to say why we sue if we don’t know why we were rejected,” Creeden said.

The companies follow a long line of losing applicants and media that have questioned the state’s selection process. After questions of political connections and misrepresentations, the state conducted a second review of its original 20 provisionally approved applicants. In June, the state approved 11 of the 20 original applicants for provisional licenses. Those applicants are now moving toward the inspection phase before opening this year. Another six applicants were eliminated.

The number of counties without licensees expanded from four to seven.

When asked to comment on the company’s complaints, David Kibbe, a spokesperson with the DPH, said “The department’s initial background check process uncovered certain suitability issues with these applicants, and they were notified that the Department had exercised its discretion to not proceed with their applications.

“While these applicants may have submitted additional information after being notified that they had not been selected, the Department did not change its decision. We are fully confident in our selection process and are looking forward to working with the highest qualified dispensaries as they set up operations to safely provide patients with access to care.”

The state would not comment on specific applicants.

With no clear understanding of why they weren’t selected, Creeden questions whether it was more JM Farm’s lack of Boston political connections or out-of-state funding. It is a complaint launched by many losing applicants, media and state legislators.

“It was business as usual in Boston,” Creeden said.

What irks the JM Farm team in particular is how Franklin County did not receive any licenses.

“They ignored Franklin County. We specifically took Franklin County because we knew other organizations didn’t see the importance of it,” Creeden said. “We knew the issues with substance abuse there. We had the support of the medical community and sheriff’s office. ... We were qualified. Why not select us?”

Ups and downs

It has been a roller coaster of a year for the JM Farm’s team.

In March 2013, Nicholas Spagnola of Brighton, chief operating officer of JM Farm, had visited Franklin County with Joshua Sodaitis of Somerville to ask local farmers whether they’d want to join the medical marijuana venture. Spagnola, a 25-year-old Boston real estate agent, said they supported farmers’ rights and sought their support.

Sodaitis, whose uncle is a farmer in Whately, made the initial introductions. Sodaitis did not officially join the company because he couldn’t move to the area.

After talking with several local farmers, Sodaitis and Spagnola met James Pasiecnik, the longtime Whately potato farmer and business owner. After hearing their proposal, Pasiecnik signed on to the venture.

In October, after getting approval to move to the second round of applications, JM Farm began seeking community support. The company met with the Deerfield and Whately boards of selectmen at public meetings and talked with the Franklin County Sheriff’s office and local police departments. JM Farm also brought on board Kayvan Khalatbari, a national consultant with Denver Relief Consulting, as an adviser.

Over the next few months, the group faced several obstacles from Whately’s temporary ban on medical marijuana dispensaries to intense competition from other Franklin County applicants.

In late October, the group found prime property in Deerfield that fit within the zoning regulations. At the same time, a second local applicant, A New Leaf, directed by Joshua and Marina Goldman of Montague, also eyed the same 15,000-square-foot space at 10 Greenfield Road. After a bidding war, JM Farm secured a lease on the property — which they still have and pay.

Next came the most important feature of their application — community support. After six hours of debate — within a day of the state’s deadline — JM Farm received a letter of nonopposition from the Deerfield Board of Selectmen. The letter was not specific to any group.

Just a few days later, Pasiecnik was charged by police with assault and battery and witness intimidation — a blow to JM Farm’s application. The case is still pending.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 On Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK

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