Dr. Carlos Roman, one of five members of the state’s Medical Marijuana Commission, fired back at critics yesterday in interviews with the Democrat-Gazette and Arkansas Business amid allegations of a conflict of interest between Roman and a top-scoring applicant for a much-coveted cultivation facility license.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen found enough merit in that point and others to enjoin the commission’s distribution of licenses on March 21, declaring its scores “null and void.” Roman took issue with the judge’s decision, according to the D-G’s Hunter Field:
“It blows my mind that a judge, a lawyer, could put this trash out,” he said, holding up Griffen’s order, which Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
With 95 cultivation applicants were competing for just five licenses, it was all but inevitable that one of the rejected parties would sue the commission. In February, the winning applicants were announced, based on a score aggregated from rubrics filled out by each commissioner independently. Earlier this month, failed applicant Naturalis Health LLC sued the commission based on various alleged irregularities in its process and an alleged conflict of interest between two commissioners and two of the five winning applicants.
The Naturalis complaint outlines two alleged conflicts of interests. One is between Roman and Dr. Scott Schlesinger, a partial owner of Natural State Medicinals Cultivation, which Roman gave a significantly higher score than any other applicant. Naturalis says Roman, an anesthesiologist and pain-management specialist who runs a large clinic in Little Rock, regularly refers patients to Schlesinger’s practice, and that the two men have “an extremely close personal and professional relationship.” (The other alleged conflict of interest is between Commissioner Travis Story and Osage Creek Cultivation.)
Roman said the scores were strictly based on merit and that Natural State Medicinals was the standout candidate among the group. He told Field that he didn’t know Schlesinger was an applicant when he was grading the cultivation hopefuls. (Names and were redacted from the applications, though some other identifying information was not.)
Roman also pointed out to Arkansas Business that he was not alone in giving Natural State Medicinals very high marks; four of the five commissioners also scored Natural State Medicinals the highest among any applicant. He said his clinic refers less than 2 percent of its patients to Schlesinger’s practice, adding:
If you look at financial disclosures, I have no ownership of anything associated with Dr. Schlesinger. I have ownership with other physicians around the state and other ventures, none of which are associated with Dr. Schlesinger.
Roman added: “The idea that there was corruption there — Dr. Schlesinger is a friend of mine and he’s a good citizen, but there’s no corruption there. He’s apparently a very fractional owner in this whole enterprise as it is.”
(According to Natural State Medicinals Cultivation’s license application, Scott Schlesinger owns 5.66 percent of the company and his wife, Dr. Kelli Schlesinger, owns 10.07 percent.)
Roman’s scoring of Natural State Medicinals is indeed on par with the other commissioners’. The breakdown released by the commission shows Roman gave the applicant a 98; the other four scores for Natural State Medicinals were 99, 98, 98 and 93. What makes Roman’s scoring unusual is that Natural State Medicinals is the only applicant that he gave a score above 78. All of the other commissioners scored other applicants in the 90s as well. Here’s the breakdown.
The Naturalis complaint says the commission’ s entire scoring process is flawed and requests every score be thrown out.