- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2012

Unsuccessful applicants to the District’s medical marijuana program are asking the courts to force the reconsideration of their submissions, claiming they were rejected by a review panel despite meeting or exceeding stated criteria.

Three firms filed a total of five civil complaints to contest the way officials, led by the D.C. Department of Health, scored and rejected their applications to open a cultivation center to grow the drug or a dispensary center to dole it out to qualified patients, according to the D.C. Office of the Attorney General.

A spokesman for the office said each of the petitions “raise the same allegations, namely that the scoring of their applications was inappropriate.”

Among them is plaintiff Dr. Michael D. Duplessie, of Bethesda, who filed a civil complaint last week in D.C. Superior Court claiming the scoring “has been done improperly and not in accordance with relevant laws and regulations.” He wants the court to send his applications from his firm, the Health Company, back to the health department and appoint an “independent, third-party observer” to oversee its second review.

City health officials are getting ready to begin the medical marijuana program in earnest this summer, more than a decade after D.C. residents approved it through a referendum. Since the issue passed, the program has been delayed by congressional interference and the complex rule-making process. The city has tread carefully in rolling out the program, hoping to avoid the regulatory pitfalls that roiled programs in other states. It also requires applicants to acknowledge that growing and selling marijuana is technically illegal under federal law and they cannot hold the city liable for prosecution.

In late March, the health department notified six applicants they can register to grow medical marijuana in the city. Five of them will be located in Ward 5. A sixth - Phyto Management - has been forced to move from its Ward 7 site because the D.C. Council passed legislation by council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, that prohibits medical marijuana business in “retail priority areas.” Ms. Alexander and the company’s principal have recently said they are working to find a new spot for the cultivation center.

Health officials are scheduled to approve up to five dispensaries - where the drug is doled out to patients - on June 25.

Dr. Duplessie’s attorney, Jason D. Klein, said he filed a pair of “almost identical” civil complaints for another hopeful firm, Compassion Centers of America, after it unsuccessfully applied to open both a cultivation center and a dispensary in the District.

A third firm, the Free World Remedy led by Jonathan Marlow, also has sought help from the courts, according to the attorney general's office.

In an email, Dr. Duplessie said he does not agree with the health department’s assessment of his firm’s financial status and site plans. He also disputes the department’s criticism of his business partners’ level of experience, citing their backgrounds in banking and federal law enforcement.

“It appears that the D.C. Board of Health has either not read my application or the playing field is not level,” Dr. Duplessie said. “I think the process is beyond flawed.”

Dr. Duplessie, in his email, touted his experience as an eye-care professional and said 100 percent of his profit from the medical marijuana business “was to be devoted to eye charity.”

In an interview Friday, Mr. Klein said city health officials need to defend their decision beyond saying “it’s just our right.” He also argued the application process has lacked transparency and communication between the department and applicants.

“We’re sort of shooting bullets in the dark here,” he said.