Mis­souri’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana head fires back at crit­ics

The Kansas City Star - - Lee's Summit Journal - BY JA­SON HAN­COCK jhan­[email protected]­star.com

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).”

JILL TOYOSHIBA [email protected]­star.com

Lyn­dell Fraker is the man in charge of Mis­souri’s new med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try.

ANDY MARSO [email protected]­star.com

Lyn­dall Fraker

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