It takes a particularly egregious series of flubs to cause Republican state legislators to rebel against Gov. Mike Parson’s appointees in an election year. The administration’s mishandled rollout of applications for Missouri’s medical marijuana licensing absolutely deserves the shellacking recently delivered by GOP state lawmakers and other critics.
At a hearing last week looking into how the application process went so badly awry, state Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, ripped into program director Lyndall Fraker for the multiple ways the procedures have been botched. Whether it was “ignorance or confusion or incompetence, Director Fraker clearly didn’t have the experience needed in the position,” Taylor said. Fraker was hired after being contacted by Robert Knodell, a top aide to Parson, and Dr. Randall Williams, Parson’s appointee as director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jack Suntrup reports.
The missteps that so rankled Taylor and other House members are rooted in the way scores were assigned for license applications to grow, produce consumable products and sell medical marijuana. Nearly identical answers on separate applications yielded widely differing scores, with some resulting in approval and others resulting in rejection. A strong whiff of favoritism surrounds the process.
The third-party scorer hired to grade those applications is Wise Health Solutions, a venture owned partially by Oaksterdam University, an unaccredited California-based institution that provided for-profit “boot camps” to coach would-be applicants. The scoring process was designed to be blind, meaning that identifying information of applicants is stripped from the forms so the scorer only judges based on the quality of the answers provided.
The concern raised by lawmakers and jilted applicants is that the Oaksterdam-coached clients may have used specific wording in their applications that won them preferential treatment by scorers.
“These folks have applicants who have been their customers, who have given them money,” Rep. J. Eggleston, R-Maysville, stated at a hearing last month. “And now they may recognize the answers on the tests, and that might taint the whole grading system.” Fraker countered by asking if Eggleston knew of any Oaksterdam clients who won licenses.
“That’s not my job to know. That would be more your job to know,” Eggleston replied.
In fact, Oaksterdam-connected applicants did win multiple dispensary and cultivation licenses.
Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Wolff, writing in a Post-Dispatch op-ed last week, questioned whether the Parson administration has rigged the process to create an “anti-competitive cartel” favoring well-connected applicants.
Considering the ridiculous level of secrecy imposed by the administration, including a previous refusal merely to release the names of license applicants, the Parson administration cannot credibly claim that it has conducted a transparent and fair scoring process. It had better be due to “incompetence,” as Rep. Taylor suggests. Otherwise, it’s by design – a far more troubling scenario for all involved.
– The St. Louis Post-Dispatch