Parson dismisses Democrats’ memo alleging interference in medical marijuana probe –

Parson dismisses Democrats’ memo alleging interference in medical marijuana probe

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Gov. Mike Parson speaks during a press conference outside of his office at the Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City on Monday, July 27, 2020.  Photo by Colter Peterson,

Colter Peterson

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday rejected a report by House Democrats saying that in May “credible allegations emerged” that his administration interfered with a legislative investigation into the state’s medical marijuana program.

House Democrats on Monday released the 79-page memo, which includes many other pieces of information, and was largely based on records the Republican-led House Special Committee on Government Oversight obtained this summer from the Department of Health and Senior Services.

Parson, a Republican, said during a news conference, “I think it’s a total political bias report that was done with no factual basis at all.” Parson went on to say the allegation was unsubstantiated.

The memo didn’t specify how the administration is alleged to have interfered with the committee, who alleged the interference, and what evidence the House has to substantiate the allegation.

“This memo will refrain from disclosing details of these allegations as the committee has not yet had the opportunity to discuss them and any next steps which may be appropriate for it to take,” the memo said.

Parson said it was up to the House whether to hold more hearings.

Unlike Parson, House leaders, including House Speaker Elijah Haahr and future House Speaker Rob Vescovo, both Republicans, have not offered any comments on the Democratic memo.

Haahr declined to comment twice when asked about the memo in a Capitol hallway on Wednesday.

Rep. Robert Ross, the Republican chairman of the House Special Committee on Oversight, did not respond to a request for comment.

The memo also said that in December 2018, one medical marijuana entrepreneur, Jack Mitchell, introduced Dr. Randall Williams, director of the health department, to Rebecca Gasca, who then discussed introducing Williams to a man whose résumé matched the head of the company that would eventually grade the state’s medical marijuana applications, Chad Warren Westom.

Lisa Cox, DHSS spokeswoman, told the Post-Dispatch Wednesday that Williams did recall meeting with Mitchell, but said he had no recollection of speaking with Westom prior to the state choosing Wise Health Solutions to score medical marijuana business applications.

“Dr. Williams vaguely recalls that he was contacted by Mr. Mitchell very early in the implementation of the medical marijuana process,” Cox said in an email. “Mr. Mitchell provided Dr. Williams with the names of two individuals that had successfully implemented a state medical marijuana program.”

“Dr. Williams’ best recollection is that he spoke to someone from Nevada that he believes was a woman, but he has no independent recollection of the conversation,” Cox said. “Dr. Williams has no recollection of communicating with anyone associated with Wise Health Solutions prior to the scoring contract being awarded, and available records support that recollection.”

The committee also obtained status reports from Wise that mention problems during the scoring process; however, the memo said the updates were vague and said the committee should ask the company and state for more information.

The memo said Parson’s office had “unique opportunities” to weigh in on scoring regulations, including the awarding of bonus points, and a market study that DHSS has used to justify its cap on the number of medical marijuana businesses.

The memo also blasts the department’s handling of its information request, saying that in violation of the Sunshine Law, the department didn’t detail which records it withheld, and didn’t attempt to separate open portions of records from portions deemed closed.