Many of those turned down have said the selection process is confusing and opaque. They contend that the D.C. Health Department did not provide clear explanations for its decisions — an accusation that city officials deny.
Rice and her partners, who include a former lingerie store owner and a social worker, are disappointed, although they have decided not to pursue legal action. For nearly a year, the women have used their retirement savings to lease a dispensary location in Shaw, hoping to provide medical marijuana to people with glaucoma, AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis. They want to know exactly where they fell short in their months-long application bid.
“We don’t want to waste their time or our time,” Rice said. “It’s confusing even to us.”
The health department, which is overseeing the roll-out of the medical marijuana program, relied on a panel of experts to score each application.
The agency told one applicant that much of the proposal was “adequate,” but denied it anyway. It dinged at least three of the unsuccessful applicants for not providing a sample label even though the application didn’t require one.
Rice’s group asked to see its scores through a request under the District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act. But the agency refused to release the scores or other material that would shed light on the panel’s decision-making process, arguing that a final announcement has not yet been made, and that such documents contain trade secrets. The scores are also part of confidential deliberations by government officials that the city is not legally obligated to disclose, said health department spokeswoman Najma Roberts.
That explanation troubles the applicants who were turned away.
“I don’t understand why this is so secretive, especially for something so high-profile,” said Tom Lindenfeld, a local political consultant working with Compassion Centers, which is affiliated with an established dispensary operator in California.
The two other groups that have filed appeals are the Health Company, which is led by Michael Duplessie, a Bethesda ophthalmologist, and the Free World Remedy, led by Jonathan Marlow, a competitive bass fisherman from Northern Virginia whose mother suffers from multiple sclerosis.
The legal challenges are the latest wrinkle in a selection process marred by glitches from the start.
Since passing a medical marijuana law in 2010, the District has taken a go-slow approach in an effort to avoid some of the mistakes that have been made in other jurisdictions, such as Colorado and California, where critics say medical marijuana has become little more than legalized drug dealing.