- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2011

The fiance of rapper M.I.A. did not make it past the first cut in the District’s long-awaited program to deliver medical marijuana to qualified patients.

Benjamin Bronfman, who is engaged to the musician of “Paper Planes” fame and is an adviser to a pro-environment company called Global Thermostat, submitted a letter of intent to set up a dispensary site in the city after the June 17 deadline, according to a notice from the D.C. Department of Health.

But the owners of a go-to Capitol Hill wine store and a neighborhood commissioner from Ward 5 do not appear on the list of disqualified hopefuls, meaning they may submit as soon as next Friday formal applications to grow or dispense medical marijuana — a critical step in establishing the city’s program to aid the sick and dying.

Earlier this year, the Department of Health received 170 letters of intent — 64 for dispensaries and 106 for cultivation centers — from more than 80 entrepreneurs and nonprofits looking to cash in on the program or at least help those who are suffering.

Officials from the department and other city agencies vetted the letters of intent during a meeting Tuesday, disqualifying 31 letters that did not meet the criteria published in official rules, such as listing an address and contact information, Department of Health Director Mohammad N. Akhter told The Washington Times.

The results leave 139 hopefuls to compete for the 15 registrations, respectively.

Applicants’ backgrounds are varied, and some are more transparent than others about their plans. While some of them trumpet their proposals, others are playing it close to the vest as they wade through the choppy legal waters of medical cannabis. One applicant labeled their letters of intent as “strictly confidential.”

Specific reasons for secrecy are unclear, although some of applicants operate other businesses or do not want to reveal their plans because of the competition.

Mr. Bronfman had submitted a letter of intent as a co-founder of the American Cannabis Research Institute based in New York City. Reached by phone earlier this week, he said he “could not talk right now” about his plans and did not return a later call.

The son of Warner Music Group’s CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr., Benjamin Bronfman was among the investors in a medical marijuana farm in Oakland, Calif., but that project was thwarted by federal law enforcement, according to a March 2 story in the New York Times.

Albrette “Gigi” Ransom, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member from Ward 5, said she is slated to serve as a compliance officer with the Washington Herbal Therapy Center, which appears to have gotten the green light since it did not show up among disqualified applicants.

The center’s lead applicant, Victoria Goldsten, is experienced in natural health and is hoping to open a cultivation center on Michigan Avenue Northeast, according to the center’s letter of intent.

“The intent of the Washington Herbal Therapy Center is to truly provide this medication to assist patients that are experiencing debilitating conditions,” Ms. Ransom said.

While each of the city’s ANCs will be able to weigh in on the location of medical marijuana facilities, Ms. Ransom stressed that Ms. Goldsten’s site is outside the borders of her own commission.

“I can have a job like anyone else,” she noted.

Rick and John Genderson, owners of Schneider’s on Capitol Hill, had “absolutely no comment” when reached by phone about their intent to apply for three cultivation centers permits under the name “Organic Wellness,” according to letters of intent obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The brothers’ wine and spirits shop on Massachusetts Avenue Northeast is a landmark in the historic neighborhood known for its extensive selection and multigeneration history stretching to 1949.

Going forward, representatives of the Department of Health, the Office of the Attorney General, D.C. Protective Services, District Department of the Environment and Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs will score each of the eventual applications based on a 250-point scale that examines criteria such as security and staffing at their facilities, their overall business plans and the opinions of local ANCs.

City officials used their Tuesday meeting to designate personnel to the panel, Dr. Akhter said.

Strict rules that forced officials to weed out hopeful applicants were intended to ensure that the names listed on letters of intent are “real people and they are submitting real applications,” he said.

Qualifying candidates have until Sept. 9 to submit their applications, once rules are published in the D.C. Register on Aug. 5.