Former congressman Bill Delahunt looks to open three medical marijuana centers

Where's Weed

Published on 11/28/13

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Former congressman Bill Delahunt runs The Delahunt Group and he is a lawyer at Eckert Seamans. He's also leading a nonprofit called Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts.

Former congressman Bill Delahunt runs The Delahunt Group and he is a lawyer at Eckert Seamans. He's also leading a nonprofit called Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts.

As a retired congressman, Bill Delahunt sure isn’t showing signs of slowing down. He runs his eponymous government relations firm, and he’s a "special counsel" at Eckert Seamans’ Boston office.

No surprises there. Lobbying and lawyering are typical next chapters in life after the Beltway.

But his third potential job is a bit of an unexpected twist: medical marijuana dealer.

The state Department of Public Health released a list of 100 applicants who are now in the second phase of a quest for medical marijuana dispensary licenses. Delahunt leads a nonprofit —Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts Inc. — with three applications on that list. The projects would open in Mashpee, Plymouth and Taunton. Notably, each is in separate counties, so they won’t compete with each other.

Delahunt, a former prosecutor-turned-congressman, tells me he was first approached by a group of doctors early this year about helping put together a medical marijuana operation. That proposal came shortly after Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question that would allow up to 35 nonprofit dispensaries in the state.

For Delahunt, he says he saw this opportunity as another way to address the scourge of prescription drug abuse. Addiction to painkillers such as OxyContin has become a serious and sometimes fatal problem in Massachusetts and across the country. Marijuana, he says, offers a much safer alternative for pain relief.

“We’re going to have a platform to point out the dangers of prescription drug abuse,” says Delahunt, who is president of Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts. “No one has ever died from an overdose on marijuana. (But) it has to be regulated and it has to be done in a way that people have confidence in it.”

Toward that end, Delahunt says his goal was to assemble a team with strong regulatory and law enforcement ties. He says those involved in his group include retired state police lieutenant Joe Flaherty, former state first deputy treasurer Grace Lee, Gosnold on Cape Cod president Ray Tamasi (Gosnold is an addition treatment center), and former Barnstable County Commissioner Mary LeClair. Dr. Trexler Topping, an ophthalmologist, is the group’s medical director.

Delahunt says he expects to be significantly involved in the operations of any of the centers that the group opens.

A number of license applicants have already been weeded out by the DPH’s stiff regulations, which include a requirement that applicants show they have access to at least $500,000 in cash.

Now the DPH has to winnow the list down again, to no more than 35. The goal will be to have at least one dispensary but no more than five in each county. A final decision is expected in early 2014.

For Delahunt’s group, the odds seem pretty good. The Taunton project would compete in Bristol County, which has seven applicants. The Mashpee one would be in Barnstable County, which has six. His group faces the most competition in Plymouth County, where there are eight applicants, including three in Brockton and a rival one in the town of Plymouth.

“What I’m finding is that the standards that DPH have established are very rigorous and the application process itself was a significant undertaking,” Delahunt says. “The department has set very high standards, I think appropriately so. Elsewhere, it’s been chaotic and kind of a Wild West mentality. … I think they’re doing it the right way.”