A contractor hired by the state health department to rank companies hoping to open medical marijuana dispensaries acknowledged in internal e-mails that it simply ran out of time to conduct thorough checks of some applications.

Still, the health department extended the company’s contract and more than doubled its pay, records show.

A different contractor was awarded a lucrative no-bid deal to conduct in-depth background checks yet failed to detect that a couple hired by several applicants to run proposed dispensaries had lost their own marijuana business license in Colorado because of violations.

These latest revelations open a wider window onto the state’s troubled effort to grant licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries, a process so flawed that regulators spent five months untangling the mess.

A Globe review shows that the state’s licensing process went off the tracks nearly from the beginning, hobbled by too little time, too many conflicts of interest, and questionable work from highly paid contractors.

“I have heard of minor complications in other states. But I have not seen anything that raised eyebrows . . . like in Massachusetts,” said Karen O’Keefe, who tracks state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C., group that lobbies to legalize marijuana.

More than two years after Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved the medical use of marijuana, not a single dispensary has opened, despite the state’s goal of having the first marijuana companies open in summer 2014. The licensing process, which sparked more than two dozen lawsuits against the state health department, remains mired in controversy, even as officials predict the first dispensaries could open this winter.

“Delays in implementation have been devastating to patients,” said Matt Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance. “Patients are forced into unsafe situations as they continue to go to the black market in search of [marijuana] . . . being robbed, assaulted, or purchasing medicine that is not tested to be free of contaminants.”

The problems began almost from the earliest days.

The state hired two companies in the fall of 2013, one to review thousands of pages of documents from 100 applicants and rank the proposals, and the other to check the backgrounds of more than 600 people associated with the marijuana companies. Much of that work was squeezed between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, according to state records and interviews.

 

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT:  http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/massachusetts/2014/12/27/state-effort-license-medical-marijuana-dispensaries-went-off-rails-from-start/9UfRwaG7TpxtvTspkSFDkI/story.html

 

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