Five groups of alternative treatment center applicants disqualified by the Department of Health due to technical issues got an early Christmas present this week when a two-judge panel granted the motion for a stay in the review process.
The DOH must halt its review of the nearly 150 remaining applicants.
Ansell Grimm & Aaron PC Partner Joshua Bauchner, who represents the five groups, said a technical issue that prevented the DOH from opening files attached to their applications might have hurt as many as two dozen rejected applicants.
“The whole point is to ensure a merit-based review so that the best applicants are awarded licenses to serve the patient population,” Bauchner said. “If an applicant is disqualified simply because the DOH couldn’t open their file, that undermines the whole process.”
“The easiest and best solution would be for the DOH to say ‘we couldn’t open your file, it doesn’t matter if it’s our fault or yours, but resubmit it in a hard copy,'” said Bauchner.
Bauchner filed six appeals for his five clients — one client applied for two different licenses.
The court consolidated the appeals and has permitted an expedited schedule. Bauchner’s brief is due at the end of January, and the DOH’s brief is due in early February.
“If we have oral argument, hopefully it’ll be [as] early as March, and then it’s up to the court in terms of how long it takes to make a decision. We’re talking effectively three months’ delay which is not significant if you consider that the people who got licenses last year are still not up and running,” Bauchner said. “This infers a merit based-review so the best applicant is awarded a license.”
If the DOH allowed applicants to resubmit instead, he said, there would be no delay at all.
His clients are among 51 applicants disqualified from a pool of nearly 200 that applied this summer for 24 medical cannabis business licenses. His clients’ disqualification, he noted, is different than those disqualified for lacking site control or not paying necessary fees.
“We’re not talking about someone who doesn’t have financial resources or experiential background. We’re talking about people who have those qualifications, but the DOH couldn’t read a portion of the application,” Bauchner said. “We know the DOH had problems with the online portal that they created that they claim they corrected. Their explanation that everyone should just take their word for it is uncompelling.”
Jeff Brown, the assistant commissioner of the Health Department who oversees the medical marijuana program, told NJBIZ via email that he cannot comment on pending litigation.