Yuk! Yuk! It's no joke
“I could have gone to a lot of other people if I was (sic) going to buy influence”, John Battista of the Cranston-based OP Pharma LLC joked. “This is Rhode Island”. This was …
Yuk! Yuk! It's no joke
“I could have gone to a lot of other people if I was (sic) going to buy influence”, John Battista of the Cranston-based OP Pharma LLC joked. “This is Rhode Island”. This was his explanation as to why the 2 percent ownership of his marijuana cultivation business by the daughter of a longtime state senator, Labor Committee Chair, Frank Ciccone III, who sponsored the legislation to add three medical marijuana dispensaries that could buy from license cultivators like OP Pharma, wasn’t influence-peddling. “I don’t think I’m influencing anybody with [her] 2 percent.”
Unexplained, of course, was how she got her 2 percent. Did she invest or was this a gift? What is insidious about this operation is that “investors” do not have to be disclosed publicly. Only a state agency, the Department of Business Administration, which is dependent on the legislature to pass its budget, knows who the insiders are in these “medical marijuana facilities and pipelines”. Think about that for a moment. Allegedly, these “medical” facilitators who are producing the "medicine" don’t need to disclose who is behind them. Traditional medical dispensers from doctors, to home health care, to diagnostic facilities, to prescription fillers, etc. are all transparent so you know with whom you are dealing. This “medicine” conduit is cloaked in secrecy. The public should have a right to know who is behind the burgeoning marijuana dispensary apparatus.
In any event, it is laughable not to disclose the “investors” as Mr. Battista has declined to do, beyond the senator’s daughter. The marijuana business is a cash cow for all in the pipeline. Since it is "regulated" it prevents a free market approach so those granted a license have a near-monopoly. Yet, it is undiscoverable as to whom are the folks raking in the cash. This opens the door wide to political insiders whose participation can be cloaked.
Last month Mr. Battista and his Rhode Island Cannabis Association, which he co-founded, threw a fundraiser for the “Senate Leadership PAC” with a suggested donation of $150 per person. “How else are you going to get to talk to anybody or get them to come out and hear what you have to say, your concerns? And then get advice back on what you need to do….What else are you supposed to do?” Mr. Battista told the Providence Journal (June 10, 2019). How silly to think that he should do what other citizens do to argue their cause without throwing money at state leaders.
I don’t doubt that Mr. Battista is a devotee of exactly how business is done in Rhode Island. What is striking is how blasé he is about how he gets what he wants. During the same week the Graduate Hotel in Providence initially decide to put a portrait of two-time felon, Mayor Vincent Cianci, in each guest room. A public outcry made them reverse course. Yet, the attitude evidenced by the Cianci coronation by the Graduate hotel chain and Mr. Battista’s comments punctuate the perversion of how business is done here. Ethics, not legal bribery, should pervade our society.
Money continues to talk up on Smith Hill and secrecy abounds as to the shadow investors behind the marijuana bonanza. The public should demand openness. Senator Ciccone has no business sponsoring the legislation.
Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.