Prominent patient advocates were used by cannabis companies for points on the 2018 license RFA for a proposed medical advisory board and discarded.
Under New Jersey’s medical cannabis law, the “Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act” (CUMMA), companies that said they would set up a patient advisory board would secure more points. Patient advocates were then contacted so the companies would secure more points in the extremely competitive licensing process.
Edward “Lefty” Grimes of the activist group Sativa Cross said he was used by the Multi-State Operator (MSO) cannabis corporation TerrAscend to secure their license in the 2018 RFA as a patient advisor when he was on the for Heady NJ’s event panel during “An Afternoon of Cannabis” in January.
“They used me to get points,” Lefty said.
He explained that their initially warm welcome was chilled when he sought to put in ramps in the grow houses and spoke in favor of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), which would have made it easier for workers to organize a labor union.
He said patients were not respected.
“They had two meetings in two years,” Lefty said. “I’m begging them for meetings.”
“I didn’t get my stock. I didn’t take the money either. They offered me money,” he noted.
TerrAscend did not return a request for comment by the time of publication.
GTI Rise and CMMNJ’s Advocate for the Medical Advisory Board
Coalition for Medical Marijuana of NJ (CMMNJ) Board member Mike Brennan had a similar story where he was used for the application by GTI Rise and then ignored.
Brennan said GTI contacted CMMNJ Executive Director Ken Wolski and said they were looking for someone specifically for this role and contacted CMMNJ to see if they had a patient advocate willing to do so. Wolski referred them to Brennan
Brennan first spoke to them in early August 2018 and sent in a resume. He then had a conversation interview over internet chats.
“Great you’re hired!” he recalled. “It’s like all of a sudden I was being interviewed for a job.”
“I wasn’t expecting any kind of payment,” Brennan added.
At the end of the process, he met with GTI executive based in Ohio Patient and Outreach Community Manager John Pardee. They said they needed a W-9 form for the honorarium, a type of payment for services rendered.
“Honorarium? Really? Cool,” he said.
Pardee promised him $1500 as an honorarium.
Brennan wanted to split his honorarium with CMMNJ. But Brennan did not hear back. So, he called up GTI and spoke with the manager. He said they would get back to him and never did.
“I’m kind of waiting to just walk up there and say, hey how are you guys doing?” he said. “I’m not looking to cause any trouble.”
A couple months later, he sought to meet with GTI NJ’s CEO Devra Karlebach at a cannabis event held at the Princeton Country Club.
“She just backed off from me,” Brennan said.
“We’re not doing that in New Jersey,” she said to him.
Brennan called his contact with the company, who by that time had resigned.
“I’ll get my people in New Jersey to reach out to you,” Brennan recalled him saying. “And nobody in New Jersey reached out to me.”
Brennan said he tried calling again and had a similar conversation.
Pardee copied his GTI contact Joe George. George said while he didn’t know the people in New Jersey he would put Brennan in touch with people in their headquarters in Chicago.
“He never did,” Brennan said.
A GTI letter from August 2019 said that once the application information was sent in the check would be mailed.
Brennan sent a bill for the honorarium. He lamented it was so frustrating he put the problem on the back burner afterward.
He has been advised to seek an attorney to send a command letter.
Brennan understands boxes were checked, but that’s what it was.
He said they “give hope of patient participation in this, and then they yank the rug from over you. Some acknowledgments would have been nice.”
Brennan noted he did not sign a contract, although he did fill out a W-4 form for tax purposes.
The fourth criteria necessary to fulfill in the 2018 Request for Application (RFA) paperwork was community support and participation. Under “Mandatory Organizational Information,” the seventh item that needed to be submitted in the 2018 RFA Checklists were “the by-laws and a list of members of the ATC’s medical advisory board, or a proposed plan to organize a medical advisory board.”
“Yeah, just another box checked off,” Brennan said.
GTI Rise also did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
A cannabis policy expert said he was not well aware of the provision. However, he was “not shocked to hear folks were used.”
He noted that if the NJ Department of Health was not prepared to enforce it, companies would not have done it. Thus, it had no teeth. The NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) was not in place when this occurred.