Missouri’s medical marijuana head fires back at critics
The head of Missouri’s medical marijuana program is accusing lawmakers who have questioned his job performance of doing the bidding of campaign donors.
Lyndall Fraker, appointed in December 2018 to oversee the program, has faced withering questions over the last month from the House government oversight committee. They include accusations that the program’s rollout was bungled and that conflicts of interest may have tainted the application process.
The criticism culminated in a contentious committee hearing last week, with Republican and Democratic lawmakers questioning Fraker’s competence and qualifications to run the department.
Fraker punched back in an interview with The Star, saying the legislature’s inquiry was fueled by “politics and money,” though he offered no specifics. After the hearing ended, he confronted Rep. Jared Taylor, R-Republic, who had earlier accused Fraker of “ignorance or confusion or incompetence.”
The back-and-forth between Fraker and Taylor was captured on the House’s livestream.
Later, Fraker 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.”
Hours later, he criticized Republican R.J. Eggleston, who has questioned whether enough due diligence by the state was done to prevent conflicts of interest.
“I’ve invited Rep. Eggleston to our office to meet our team and explain the whole program,” Fraker tweeted Thursday morning. “No response. Just wants to embarrass our hard working team.”
A QUESTIONABLE INVITATION
Republican and Democratic leaders in the Missouri House have shown no signs they intend to back off from the committee’s investigation, even as some have begun shifting blame for the program’s problems onto Missouri 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.”
Now it seems Fraker and some of his allies are ready to start pushing back at legislative criticism, all while the program faces more than 850 appeals from those who were denied a license and an almost certain flood of litigation.
Eggleston said Thursday afternoon that Fraker left him a voicemail “inviting me to a social visit in the middle of this investigation.”
“I felt that just as it would be improper for a judge to socialize with a plaintiff or a defendant in the middle of a trial, it would have been improper for me to have visited with Mr. Fraker outside of the hearing room setting,” Eggleston said. “So I did not return his call.”
Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, tweeted back at Fraker’s insinuation that the criticism he was facing was inspired by campaign donors.
“I’ve been through worse tribulation. You’ll get over it,” she said. “And as I’ve stated before, I don’t know you so I can’t disparage you. However, with 20 years in state government under my belt, I will criticize the process when I see fit. Veterans and people with cancer deserve better.”
More hearings are expected in the weeks ahead, as lawmakers continue to express concern with the decisions made by Fraker and others who oversee the medical marijuana program.
Many of those concerns focus on the decision to hire a private company to score applications for licenses to grow, transport and sell marijuana — and on subsequent allegations that conflicts of interest within the company may have tipped the scales in favor of certain applicants.
The company, Wise Health Solutions, is a joint venture of Nevada-based Veracious Investigative & Compliance Solutions and Oaksterdam University, an unaccredited California institution in California that offers courses of study on the cannabis industry.
The state has paid Wise
Health Solutions $2.2 million since it was awarded the contract last August.
CONFLICT OR LACK OF CLARITY?
The latest accusation, raised during last week’s hearing by Quade, focused on an employee of Wise Health Solutions named Samaara Robbins.
Wise Health Solutions listed Robbins as a “team lead” in paperwork filed with the state, with duties including “supervise and coordinate review of scoring applications.” It also noted that she was a member of the scoring team for Arkansas’ medical marijuana program.
On Robbins’ professional website, she says she helps craft business plans, and as of Thursday morning listed under clients, “cannabis licensees in California, Nevada, New Jersey, Illinois and Missouri.”
By Thursday afternoon, “Missouri” had been deleted and replaced with
‘‘ ULTIMATELY THIS IS THE GOVERNOR’S ADMINISTRATION, AND IT’S ROLLING OUT UNDER HIS SUPERVISION.
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield
“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, and why the department didn’t catch it.
“That is why so many of my colleagues and I are very concerned,” she said. “We did a two minute Google search and found she lists having cannabis clients in Missouri.”
Amy Moore, deputy director of the program, said she would need more details before being able to comment. But “this is the kind of thing we want people to bring to us, and we’d be happy to look into that.”
Robbins directed questions to Chad Westom, owner of Veracious. In an email Thursday afternoon, he said Robbins was originally supposed to be a team lead but ultimately ended up working as a scorer.
“As you know, scorers had access to only a few questions they were tasked with scoring, per establishment type,” Westom said. “All applicant worksheets they reviewed and scored were received in a blind/redacted format.”
Westom said “there is no conflict of interest.” 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).”
Lyndell Fraker is the man in charge of Missouri’s new medical marijuana industry.