ORLEANS — The CEO of Strain, LLC, whose company finished out of the running in the competition to secure one of the town’s two retail marijuana licenses, called the process “completely unfair” in a telephone interview this week.
“It was rigged,” Priscilla Brown said.
Strain and four other companies responded to the town’s request for information. A composite of their scoring gave Ember Gardens 100.8 points, b\well 99.8, Seaside Joint Venture 97.2, Dune Wellness LLC 96.6, and Strain 80. Last week (see related story), the board voted to invite Seaside Joint Venture and Ember Gardens to negotiate community host agreements, with Dune Wellness as the designated back-up.
(In an email, b\well CEO Karen Nash wrote, “We believe the process was not proper and we are exploring our options. b\well is the most qualified candidate and the only candidate with an operating dispensary with a proven track record.”)
“When Orleans sent out the request for information, they said that what they were asking is what they were grading us on,” said Brown of Strain, LLC. “At the end of the process, they said they were adding a grading system. Then they graded us on things not in the original submissions. They put in exclusionary language. The original didn’t say anything about having done business in Orleans previously.”
The town’s director of planning and community development, George Meservey, helped draw up the RFI. Asked about the concern, he forwarded a section of the document that requested information about “relevant business experience in Orleans” and in Massachusetts.
Brown said the town asked applicants whether they wanted information redacted before their submissions were posted online, and that the company asked to redact its agreement with the owners of 5 Namskaket Rd. “so no one would attempt to buy the property. Two days before the final decision, our property was bought out from under us by Channel 18 streaming news, the local public access… We got an agreement with the landlord that owns the other half of the building at the last minute to stay in the running.”
“I was given information that Lower Cape TV had an agreement on the space that Strain had in its application,” Meservey wrote. “I contacted Ms. Brown and asked her to comment, which she did via email.” In a separate email, Town Administrator John Kelly wrote that the town redacted the landlord’s letter as requested by Strain.
“We are looking at a variety of options across the five-town footprint for a studio and community use facility,” Lower Cape TV Executive Director Teresa Martin wrote in an email. “And as we all know, the address you reference is indeed on the market… When we have a definitive decision and firm deal, I will be sure to share.”
Martin wrote that the exploration is not directly related to impending construction at LCTV’s current location at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham (“no one is asking us to leave”). “Realizing that the site will be a construction zone a year from now was one factor in starting us on a much-needed strategic process to assess physical location and what best serves wider community needs as well as our nonprofit organization’s needs,” she wrote.
Brown called out members of the select board “who intentionally graded us low in certain areas where we were equal to other applicants.” She noted that one member gave Seaside Joint Venture a 9 (out of a possible 10) on parking and traffic plans and all others a 3. “We have just as many parking places as Seaside Joint Venture,” she said, and had received compliments from the owner of an abutting business regarding planned traffic flow improvements. In addition, Strain planned to offer a delivery service, which Brown noted would reduce traffic at the location significantly.
Strain received the lowest composite score for overall business plan. Brown said that a partner, Blake Mensing, is “the most accomplished cannabis attorney in Massachusetts” and has negotiated many community host agreements. “Someone with that skill set was rated 20 points lower than everybody else,” she said.
“Only one person graded us fairly,” Brown said. “Andrea Reed. We even scored the lowest on diversity. The company that has the gay, black female running it scored lowest on diversity.”
The composite score for “commitment to local hiring and diversity” showed Strain tied with b\well at 8.4, behind Ember Gardens at 8.6 and ahead of Seaside Joint Venture (8) and Dune Wellness LLC (7.6).
Brown said there’s “not a lot of legal recourse” the company can take. “It’s another reason why the (state) process is flawed,” she said. “Rather than qualified applicants going forward, the town gets to select who goes forward… It really bothered us that Orleans went out of its way to make sure we would not be selected… They did not try to sabotage all the other applicants, only us.”