House committee hears from state’s medical marijuana director

A company hired to score applications for medical marijuana licenses in Missouri was barred by its contract from training applicants on its process, according to the deputy director for implementing the state program.

As hundreds of rejected applicants for licenses to cultivate, manufacture or sell medical marijuana in Missouri appeal their denials and raise questions about the state’s process for selecting who would get a license, Missouri House leaders called on Lyndall Fraker, director of implementing medical marijuana, to testify in front of the House Special Committee on Government Oversight.

Fraker and deputy director and legal counsel Amy Moore appeared before the committee Wednesday afternoon to present on the process of setting up the state’s medical marijuana program and answer questions from lawmakers. The committee had limited time to ask questions Wednesday, and committee chair state Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, said he wants Fraker to return next week to answer more questions for the committee.

The department used a blind scoring system to rank applicants. It scored applicants based on agricultural experience, business experience, officers’ qualifications and criminal records, letters of recommendation, business plans, security plans, and other criteria. The department contracted Wise Health Solutions to grade and rank the applications.

In the limited time the committee had, state Rep. Peter Meredith, D-St. Louis, questioned Fraker and Moore on Wise Health Solutions, a joint venture between marijuana training provider Oaksterdam University and marijuana regulatory advising firm Veracious Investigative & Compliance Solutions.

Some have criticized Oaksterdam’s involvement in the process because of its track record of providing training sessions on medical marijuana regulations. Meredith asked Fraker and Moore if Oaksterdam provided paid seminars to teach applicants about the application process it was overseeing.

Moore said that was not the case. The company’s contract with the department prohibited it from doing anything like that, she said. If any applicant received any training from Oaksterdam, it would have been before they entered into the contract in August, she said. The department investigated a claim Oaksterdam provided training after the contract but doesn’t believe the allegation was true, Moore said.

Meredith also questioned why the department issued only the constitutional minimum 60 cultivation permits. An MU market study the department contracted estimated the state would have about 26,000 medical marijuana patients three years after the program started and estimated the state would need only 24-29 cultivators to meet that demand.

The department has already licensed 33,259 patients, but they are still a long way from needing even 60 cultivators, Moore said. The department wanted to make sure supply and demand for medical marijuana were balanced to prevent excess supply that could end up in the black market, Fraker said.

“Patient access is our north star, but we’ve also been tasked with public safety,” Moore said.

Controversy over the application and scoring process has reached the courts, as well. Retired Joplin cardiologist Paul Callicoat, along with his wife, Wendy, and son, Jonathon, have put about $3 million to turn a 75-acre property in Sarcoxie into a medical marijuana growing facility.

They sued the state the day after their permit application was denied, challenging the state’s scoring system and arguing its cap of 60 cultivation permits violates Missouri’s Right to Farm amendment, which voters approved adding to the Constitution in 2014.

A hearing in the case is scheduled Feb. 19 before Cole County Presiding Judge Patricia Joyce.

In an order Jan. 2, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem denied the family’s request for a temporary restraining order against the state health department, but the court needed to further review whether the state’s regulation impeded access to medical marijuana or violated the right to farm.

THIS STORY IS FROM JEFFERSON CITY NEWS-TRIBUNE