March 26, 2013

State: Marijuana supplier used pesticides, violated rules

By Michael Shepherd
State House Bureau

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(FILE) Wellness Connection of Maine’s Portland marijuana dispensary, located at the end of an alley off Congress Street behind the Local 188 restaurant. Photographed March 29, 2012.`

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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DeKeuster didn't respond to a message left on her cellphone Monday evening. 

Paul McCarrier, a lobbyist for Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, said, "It's really a tragedy for the patients."

He said the findings show that Wellness Connection's upper management was "encouraging workers to be deceitful" to "people who look to them to have a safe, clean medicine."

The state also cited Wellness Connection of Maine for its "security, governance, inventory control and disposal of unused products."

For example, employees lacked the necessary registration to work around marijuana; plumbing and electrical contractors were allowed to work near the plants; and two ounces of marijuana from the dispensary in Hallowell went unaccounted for in a check by the DHHS.

Wellness Connection dispensaries also were selling "kief" -- resin that comes from cannabis and can accumulate in containers or be shaken or sifted from dried buds, the state said. Albert said program rules have long been interpreted to prohibit sales of kief, which produces a high concentration of psychoactive ingredients. 

McCarrier said that if Wellness Connection was producing kief, it may have been removing it from plants it would sell -- effectively watering down the marijuana's medicinal quality to boost profits.

The state also cited the group for a managerial conflict of interest, prohibited in dispensaries by state law. It says Patricia Rosi-Santucci was hired as the group's vice president of marketing in September 2012, while she was a member of the group's board of directors. Documents say she's now the group's chief operating officer.

The state didn't learn of her resignation from the board until this month, and Albert said that when she assumed her executive role, she was one of only three board members, which was an "inherent conflict."

Albert said Rosi-Santucci is married to Jacques Santucci, a Portland-based business consultant who has long been linked to Wellness Connection of Maine. 

The state document says "Jacques S." has been serving as acting chief financial officer, but he doesn't have the necessary identification card to do so.

Jacques Santucci didn't return a call seeking comment Monday evening.

Albert said that in assigning responsibility for violations, "the buck stops with the board of directors," which is ultimately in charge of the group.

Despite the violations, he said he's confident that Wellness Connection of Maine can rebound and grow marijuana without pesticides.

"If the commissioner or I were uncomfortable with their ability to come into compliance and produce medicine at the rate of production they need, we would be having a very different discussion with Wellness Connection today," he said.

McCarrier said he wouldn't speculate on the violations' effect on the dispensaries' business, but the group will have to atone to keep patients' trust.

"I'm trying to imagine how they can try to make it up to their patients or the general community," McCarrier said. "It's tough to think of what that will take to make people have trust in them again."

Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at:
Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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