Hundreds of applicants who were denied licenses for medical marijuana businesses in Missouri have appealed the decision, prompting state lawmakers to launch an investigation into the selection process. In recent weeks legislators in the state’s House of Representatives have been taking testimony from state regulators, with many lawmakers focusing on a private company that was hired to score cannabis license applications.
“I have concerns that there were conflicts,” Republican Rep. Jared Taylor said at a recent hearing. “I find it hard to believe that there wasn’t, or something that we would at least look into.”
Regulators implementing Missouri’s medical marijuana program, which was approved by voters in 2018, received more than 2,200 applications last year from more than 700 different entities for licenses to cultivate, process, and sell cannabis. In August, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services announced that it would issue a total of 348 licenses to 60 cultivators, 86 cannabis product manufacturers, and 192 dispensaries.
Since that announcement, more than 800 appeals have been filed by unsuccessful applicants. Many of the appeals express concern about the hiring of Wise Health Solutions, a company that was hired by the state to score license applications. Wise Health Solutions is a joint venture between Nevada-based Veracious Investigative and Compliance Solutions and Oaksterdam University, a California institution offering unaccredited cannabis education programs.
CPC At Center of Conflict
Attorney Damian Martin says that Debby Goldsberry, a former Oaksterdam instructor, is also an executive with two cannabis companies in California, CPC of Pasadena and CPC Compassion in Santa Monica. Martin also believes that Goldsberry has a relationship with CPC of Missouri, LLC, a company that received a dispensary license, and CPC of Missouri-Smithville, LLC, which was awarded three licenses to cultivate marijuana.
“There’s a link. Unless that’s a different CPC, which I highly doubt,” the lawyer said. “I was taken aback when I established that link.”
Confusing the matter is a provision of the constitutional amendment approved by voters to legalize medical marijuana that requires regulators to keep ownership information about licensees confidential. Critics say the lack of transparency does not foster faith in the selection process.
Dale Sky Jones, the executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University, told local media that Goldsberry hadn’t taught at the school since 2017 and had no input in the selection process.
“Debby had absolutely nothing to do with Wise Health Solutions or this scoring project,” Sky Jones wrote in an email. “We have not spoken in over a year, nor has she been to (Oaksterdam University) campus.”
“We did not know Debby Goldsberry was involved in a license in Missouri and frankly — as I said earlier — I have not talked with her lately.”
Lawmakers are also looking into a ‘cannabis boot camp’ held in Missouri by Oaksterdam which was promoted to provide “exclusive access to required industry relationships necessary to build teams and businesses that succeed.” Oaksterdam has said that none of the boot camp’s instructors were involved with Wise Health Solutions or the selection process. But that doesn’t appear to be enough for legislators looking into the matter.
“These folks have applicants who have been their customers, who have given them money,” said Rep. J. Eggleston, also a Republican. “And now they may recognize the answers on the tests, and that might taint the whole grading system.”
Fraker said that he was not aware of Oaksterdam’s involvement with the boot camps before the contract to score the applications was awarded but that there is no evidence of a conflict.
“We have attestations from (Wise Health Solutions) that there were no conflicts,” Fraker said. “We believe that.”
The general counsel for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said that the boot camps took place before the application questions had been finalized and that none were held after Wise Health Solutions submitted the bid to score the applications. The agency has hired three outside lawyers to help its attorneys review the appeals from applicants who were denied applications.