CCT – Former U.S. Rep. William Delahunt quits Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts, which was sailing along with a proposal to open dispensaries in Mashpee, Plymouth and Taunton before state officials reversed course and rescinded the group’s provisional licenses in June.
He has been approached by a group seeking to expand addiction treatment services in the Northeast and can’t do both, Delahunt said on Monday.
“There’s just so much that one could do,” he said.
Delahunt told the other Medical Marijuana board members on Monday morning he was going to announce his departure, he said.
“They understood,” Delahunt said.
Jonathan Herlihy, Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts’ chief operating officer, said that while the announcement came Monday, he and the other board members had known it was coming for a while.
Massachusetts voters approved the ballot initiative on medical use of marijuana in November 2012, with 63 percent of the vote in support.
Delahunt was president and a director of the nonprofit company, which was initially awarded three of the 20 provisional dispensary licenses handed out by the state Department of Public Health in January. He had served as an officer for Triple M, the group’s management company, but stepped down from that position in January.
In June, the Public Health Department changed its mind after a more thorough review of the applications. There was also backlash over the nonprofit’s projected salaries; Delahunt’s political and personal connections, especially his friendship with Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett; and the former congressman’s success in acquiring provisional licenses.
The state sent letters of “non-selection” to Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts, based on the department’s concern over the profit projected to be channeled to the nonprofit’s management company and for misleading statements in the application regarding support from state Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth.
Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts countered that state health officials couldn’t legally take back the provisional certificates.
Both Delahunt and Bartlett have maintained that the decisions about who received the provisional licenses were based on merit.
“The process was entirely devoid of political influence,” Delahunt said Monday.
“We’re actively engaged in a complaint against the DPH on their decision to take away our provisional licenses,” Herlihy said.
The group has already sunk $1.5 million into a cultivation facility in Plymouth and other expenses, Herlihy said.
“We’ve put too much effort in this to walk away,” he said, adding that it wouldn’t be fair to the communities where they would be located.
Mary LeClair, a former county commissioner, said she is still on board as liaison for the group in the town of Mashpee if a dispensary is built there, despite the departure of her longtime friend Delahunt. But she said she is keeping busy with other things in the meantime.
“I’m not a lawyer,” she said about the lawsuit. “Let that take its own course.”
But, she said, “If Bill called me and wanted me to do something, I’d do it.”
Delahunt was helpful because his reputation kept away unwanted elements that might otherwise become involved in a marijuana-related business, Herlihy said.
“We don’t want the bad guys to come near us,” he said.
In addition, Delahunt attracted a group of people still working with the company, Herlihy said.
“We have a better plan and a better product because of Bill Delahunt,” he said.
But the attention brought by his connection to Bartlett, including her $500 campaign contribution in 2007, wouldn’t go away, Herlihy said.
“This story was never going to end,” he said.
Delahunt described attempts to open medical marijuana dispensaries in the state as a “long and winding road” but said he has confidence that his former colleagues will succeed.
“I will still be supportive of and advocating for Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts,” Delahunt said.
The new group he is working with, which he declined to name, is directly involved in addiction treatment, Delahunt said.
“I don’t know if they’ll have any success,” he said about the new group. “I think it’s a worthy endeavor.”
Delahunt said his decision to opt out of the medical marijuana business was not based on the hurdles facing the nonprofit group.
He also praised the people who worked with him.
“If they prevail, and I’m confident that they will, they’ll be the gold standard that I referred to,” he said. “They’re just a terrific group and they’re that good.”
Delahunt dismissed the idea that he or anyone else was in the medical marijuana business for the money.
“By the way, it’s not a good investment and I was never an investor,” he said. “These people are motivated by a real sense of altruism. So the whole greed thing is baloney.”
He also praised Bartlett.
“Cheryl Bartlett is an outstanding individual, a true professional and somebody whose service to the community has been extraordinary,” he said.
Delahunt is the second prominent person affiliated with Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts to step down.
In May, Raymond Tamasi, president and CEO of Gosnold on Cape Cod, gave up his consulting position with the company following public criticism.
Delahunt said he still believes in the efficacy of medical marijuana, quoting a recent study that showed a 25 percent drop in opiate overdoses in states where medical marijuana is legal.
“I had always believed that marijuana for medical purposes would serve as an alternative to pharmaceutical heroin,” he said.