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Capital NY – Bill sponsor calls for more transparency in marijuana licensing

By Josefa Velasquez, July 28

ALBANY—The state health department is scheduled to award licenses to grow and dispense medical marijuana by the end of the week, but one of the bill’s sponsors believes the process should be more transparent.

So far, the public knows the names of the 43 businesses that have submitted applications to manufacture and dispense medical marijuana in the state, but little else.

“I think the documents ought to be public so people can see who is applying and whether they are people with connections, et cetera,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the chair of the Assembly health committee and the bill’s sponsor. ”But what concerns me most about the process is whoever gets picked, or whoever doesn’t get picked, will not know why they didn’t win, and to me that is an open invitation to all sorts of allegations.”

While some companies have publicly disclosed where they would locate their facilities, some have declined to reveal the locations. There is also no public indication of who is financing some of the proposed operations or who exactly is involved in the bidding process.

”In any process like this, there are mechanisms for keeping proprietary information and trade secrets quiet,” said Gottfried. “But who the investors are and who the key people are should not be kept private.”

In this respect, the marijuana process stands in contrast to the state’s process for siting casinos. Before the casino licenses were awarded late last year, the state’s Gaming Commission made public the 16 applications for developers seeking casino licenses and how they would be evaluated.

Casino applications, the siting board said, would be evaluated on a scale: Up to 70 percent would be based on economic activity and business development factors, 20 percent on local impact and siting factors and an additional 10 percent on workforce enhancement factors.

How the Department of Health will evaluate medical marijuana bidders remains unclear.

The Compassionate Care Act, billed as one of the strictest medical marijuana laws in the nation, was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in July of 2014 and will allow up to five medical marijuana manufacturers to operate up to four dispensaries statewide.

Once licenses are awarded, the medical marijuana program is expected to be fully functional by Jan. 2016.