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Legislative report discloses allegation that Parson administration interfered with medical pot probe

Legislative report discloses allegation that Parson administration interfered with medical pot probe

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JEFFERSON CITY — A 79-page memorandum released Monday says there are “credible allegations” Gov. Mike Parson’s administration interfered with a House investigation into the state’s medical marijuana program, without detailing specific instances of interference.

The memo, prepared by counsel for the House Democrats, said that beginning in May, “credible allegations emerged concerning executive branch interference in” the Special Committee on Government Oversight’s investigation of the Republican administration’s medical marijuana program.

Casey Millburg, the staffer who wrote the memo to House Minority Leader Crystal Quade and the three Democrats on the investigative panel, said in the memo that she wouldn’t detail the allegations because the Special Committee on Government Oversight had yet to meet to discuss them.

Kelli Jones, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday.

The nugget on potential Parson administration interference is just one piece of the memo, which is based on records the committee obtained this summer from the Department of Health and Senior Services. The House requested the documents in early May, the same month as the possible interference, the memo noted.

The memo makes the case that the Special Committee on Government Oversight should continue its work digging into the program, which has so far spent $1.3 million in court to defend its licensing decisions.

But, less than two months before Election Day, it is unclear whether the Republican-controlled committee has the political will to publicly reopen the probe, which could cast Parson in a negative light. Lawmakers meet back in Jefferson City this week for their annual veto session.

The Post-Dispatch obtained the memo Monday from House Democrats.

Leaders of the state’s medical marijuana program fielded heavy criticism early this year over the state’s handling of marijuana business licenses, including the state’s hiring of a third-party scorer, Nevada-based Wise Health Solutions, to grade applications.

Rejected applicants have complained of scoring discrepancies and possible conflicts of interests by Wise, a joint venture between the marijuana business training school Oaksterdam University and the Nevada-based company Veracious Investigative & Compliance Solutions.

The memo says that emails show the first connection between Wise and DHSS was in December 2018 — “a connection which department officials have not previously disclosed to the committee.”

The memo says that shortly after voters approved Amendment 2, legalizing medical marijuana in November 2018, a member of the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, Jack Mitchell, introduced via email Dr. Randall Williams, director of the state health department, to Rebecca Gasca, who was involved in Nevada’s marijuana legalization effort.

Gasca, according to the memo, “informs the director that she is responding to Mr. Mitchell’s request to connect the director to a person whose resume description is an exact match to that of Mr. Chad Warren Westom, head of Veracious.”

The memo says there were no other records of communications between Williams, Gasca and Westom.

“The committee is entitled to question why Director Williams did not disclose to it this early connection to the individual whose company was selected to score applications,” the memo says.

“It is further justified in inquiring whether Mr. Westom was connected with any other DHSS officials earlier than has previously been shared with SCOGO (the Special Committee on Government Oversight), as well as the nature and timing of any such communications,” the memo says.

Williams did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday.

The memo says that while officials have denied “having any basis for concern” over Wise’s “impartiality or conflicts of interest,” the House identified records that detail such concerns.

“In these, the individuals allege in detail conflicts of interest and other appearances of impropriety on the part of WHS (Wise Health Solutions),” the memo says.

The committee also obtained status reports from Wise that mention problems during the scoring process; however, the memo said the updates were vague and said the committee should ask the company and state for more information.

The memo also says Parson’s office had “unique opportunities” to weigh in on scoring regulations, including the awarding of bonus points, and a market study that DHSS has used to justify its cap on the number of medical marijuana businesses.

“[I]t should be stated that it is not at all unusual for a governor’s office to be apprised of rulemaking developments within its administration,” the memo says.

But, the memo says, “The governor’s office twice had unique opportunities to review advance information and help shape matters that ultimately proved influential to the licensure process and its outcomes.”

“The committee ... may also want to ask which staff in the governor’s office had access to this advance information,” the memo says, “and whether the office had policies in place to ensure it was not shared or discussed outside of necessary staff.”

The memo also blasts the department’s handling of its information request, saying that in violation of the Sunshine Law, the department didn’t detail which records it withheld, and didn’t attempt to separate open portions of records from portions deemed closed.

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