KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – The man leading Missouri’s medical marijuana program is involved in a war of words with some lawmakers, saying their criticism is fueled by “politics and money.”
Lyndall Fraker has faced scrutiny over the past month from the House government oversight committee, including accusations that the program’s implementation was bungled and that conflicts of interest may have tainted the application process.
Fraker told the Kansas City Star that legislators questioning his performance are doing the bidding of campaign donors.
Missouri voters approved medical marijuana in November 2018 and the state recently granted licenses for everything from cultivation to retail sales. The process drew criticism from many of those who failed in licensing efforts. More than 850 appeals have been filed, and lawsuits are expected.
At a committee meeting Wednesday in Jefferson City, members from both parties questioned Fraker’s competence and qualifications. Afterward, Fraker confronted Rep. Jared Taylor, R-Republic, who had accused Fraker of “ignorance or confusion or incompetence.”
Fraker later tweeted in support of his staff, saying “some are attempting to discredit them and me personally because some of their big donors didn’t get a license.”
He also criticized Republican R.J. Eggleston, who has questioned whether enough was done to prevent conflicts of interest, tweeting on Thursday that Eggleston “wants to embarrass our hard working team.”
Some House leaders have begun shifting blame for the program’s problems onto Republican Gov. Mike Parson.
“Ultimately this is the governor’s administration,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, “and it’s rolling out under his supervision.”
Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, tweeted back at Fraker’s insinuation that criticism of him was inspired by campaign donors, saying she will “criticize the process when I see fit. Veterans and people with cancer deserve better.”
Many concerns focus on the decision to hire a private company to score applications for licenses to grow, transport and sell marijuana, and on allegations that conflicts of interest within the company may have tipped the scales in favor of certain applicants.
The company, Wise Health Solutions, has been paid $2.2 million by the state since it was awarded the contract in August. Wise Health Solutions is a joint venture of Nevada-based Veracious Investigative & Compliance Solutions and Oaksterdam University, an unaccredited California institution that offers courses of study on the cannabis industry.
Quade pointed to a Wise Health Solutions employee, Samaara Robbins, whose duties include “supervise and coordinate review of scoring applications,” according to paperwork filed with the state.
Robbins’ professional website says she helps craft business plans. As of Thursday morning it listed under clients, “cannabis licensees in California, Nevada, New Jersey, Illinois and Missouri.” By that afternoon, “Missouri” had been deleted and replaced with “Missouri Department of Health cannabis licensing.”
Quade questioned the department about whether Robbins’ website was evidence of a conflict that should have kept her from being involved in scoring applications.
Robbins directed questions to Veracious owner Chad Westom, who denied any conflict of interest. He told the Star in an email that Robbins was originally supposed to be a team lead but ultimately ended up working as a scorer.
“All applicant worksheets they reviewed and scored were received in a blind/redacted format,” Westom said.
After being contacted by The Star, Westom said he reviewed Robbins’ website and “clarified that the Missouri client mentioned previously was specifically the Missouri Department of Health & Human Services, per her application scoring through (Wise Health Solutions).”