The Missouri House Special Committee on Government Oversight is investigating the state’s handling of medical cannabis industry licensing and is seeking records from Gov. Mike Parson’s (R) deputy chief of staff, chief operating officer, and Steve Tilley, a longtime lobbyist and advisor to the governor, the Kansas City Star reports.
The investigation follows public testimony by members of the administration and cannabis regulators earlier this year, along with a whistleblower complaint from a purported Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) employee. The complaint accuses department officials of lying during that public testimony and questions the salaries and qualifications of those running the program.
The investigation is focused on reports of irregularities in how the license applications were scored – that Wise Heath Solutions, the private company hired to score them, may have tainted the process – and conflicts of interest within DHSS, the report says. Wise Health is a joint venture of Nevada-based Veracious Investigative & Compliance Solutions and Oaksterdam University.
Lawmakers are seeking records about how DHSS decided to rely on a private company to score the applications and how Wise Health Solutions won that contract. They are also seeking records on controversial rule changes DHSS enacted throughout the application process that have angered many license seekers and led to appeals by would-be operators.
One such change includes DHSS saying it would grant bonus points for applicants who located their operations in areas of high unemployment; however, that change was announced shortly before the final rules for applying were finalized and after many applicants had already purchased property, drawn up plans, and paid fees to the state.
As of March 4, more than 800 appeals had been filed by companies that were denied state licenses to operate a medical cannabis business in the state and many of the appeals argue that the scoring system used in the licensing process was flawed. A review by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found that some two dozen groups, which each won five or more licenses, had ties to out-of-state cannabusinesses or the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association – or MoCannTrade – whose lobbyist is Tilley.
The House committee had paused the inquiry due to the coronavirus pandemic but reopened the investigation after DHSS Director Randall Williams indicated staff had resumed their work and dispensaries were set to open this summer.
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