Controversy revealed in Massachusetts medical marijuana licensing process


If you were arrested and/or prosecuted in Norfolk County, Massachusetts for marijuana possession, cultivation, or sales, between the years 1976 and 1996, it was local District Attorney Bill Delahunt who was ultimately responsible for your buzzkill. From 1997 until 2011, he served Massachusetts’ 10th District as a United States Congressman.

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Bill Delahunt from Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts

Late last month, when just 20 medical marijuana dispensary licenses were granted across the entire state, it was Delahunt’s latest venture, a company called Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts, which was granted all 3 licenses that it applied for. No other group was awarded more than two.

Ignoring for a moment how brazenly hypocritical this man is about weed, accusations of foul play in the licensing process have turned up a trail of dirt connecting Delahunt’s new pot enterprise to the top-level political appointees in charge of awarding the hard-to-get licenses.
Cheryl Bartlett became the state’s public health commissioner in June of 2013. Part of her job description included overseeing the state’s fledgling medical marijuana program, and personally signing off on any licenses to be granted to the handful of allowable dispensaries.
But in a flurry of events kicking off at the beginning of January, Bartlett released some interesting conflict-of-interest forms. First, on December 30th of last year, Karen van Unen was brought on to be the state’s new director for the medical marijuana program. One day later, Bartlett’s conflict-of-interest disclosure forms were filed, iterating that she, not Unen, would still make the final call on all licensing approvals. Yet strangely, two weeks later, Unen filed her own disclosure forms, re-taking control over the entire process.
Why this is fishy is because on her disclosure forms, Cheryl Bartlett admitted to hosting major fundraisers for Delahunt back in 2005 and 2006 during his time as a Congressman. That she waited until just two weeks before the licenses were granted, after months and months of allegedly unbiased deliberation while reviewing 100 competing applications, is a giant red flag to political and business rivals of Delahunt – the man who apparently is set to profit off of 20 year old political favors.
Now back to Delahunt’s hypocrisy, because he is rife with it.
In the 1990’s, District Attorney Delahunt made a pledge to ‘hit marijuana dealers where it hurts’.
Today, he brushes it off as bygones, saying that, “They weren’t using it for medicinal purposes back then.”
By “they”, he means the estimated 10,000 Massachusetts residents who had their lives ruined by his heavy-handed policies on pot – nearly 90% of them for simple possession!
Today, he hopes that “they” will be his biggest customers as he looks to cash in on the plant he spent two decades demonizing.
Accusations of political bullying and backscratching have followed Bill Delahunt around for his entire career, and even his current weed dealing company is shaded in controversy regarding mystery employees and evading background checks.
Luke O’Neil at Boston Daily summed it up perfectly in a beautifully scathing piece on Delahunt’s U-turn on ganja when he says, “On its face, this is a perversion so absurd it’s practically comical. It’s so unprecedentedly offensive, it’s hard to find a comparison. It’s as if a local MADD chapter scooped up a suddenly vacated liquor license. Or PETA availed itself of loosened food truck restrictions to operate a sausage stand, maybe.”
In the same piece, Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML, more mildly summarizes the Delahunt debacle, saying, “There’s no doubt one can be fairly jaded in seeing people who spent a lot of time enforcing marijuana prohibition like he did now put their fingers up to the political winds. Not even for moral reasons, but for purely economic ones, championing causes that they never championed when they had the reins of power in their hands.”
But, as is often the case, St. Pierre loses many in the cannabis community when he follows up by warning the rest of us that, “When our traditional opponents come to realize they were wrong, we should embrace that and not be punitive to them. As much as that might be fun and feel good on visceral level, it’s different on a political level.”
There are over 10,000 Massachusetts residents who know just how punitive D.A. Delahunt was back then, and they probably don’t feel like embracing him now.