Seven marijuana bills making their way through committee

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 496 views 

Seven bills, all filed by Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, that would regulate parts of the supply chain and make other changes to the state’s medical marijuana amendment were discussed by the House Rules Committee Wednesday.

Rep. House was asked by Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, to be ready to make changes to the amendment before it was even approved by voters in November. The House Rules Committee will vote on the bills Feb. 8. The amendment’s language allows much of it to be altered with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

All seven of the bills were given a thumbs-up before the committee by Melissa Fults, who heads the 25,000-member group Arkansans for Compassionate Care, which pushed for a different medical marijuana initiative that the Supreme Court removed from the ballot before the election.

House told legislators that it’s better to manage the new industry through regulation rather than legislation whenever possible because regulators can make changes quickly while legislators meet in regular session only every two years.

The bills are the following:

– House Bill 1051 would allow cultivation facilities and dispensaries to contract with transporters, distributors and processors, which would be licensed by the Medical Marijuana Commission that was created by the amendment. House said those parts of the supply chain will be created as the industry evolves.

– House Bill 1049 would disallow most people with a felony record from having a cultivation of dispensary license. The Medical Marijuana Commission would determine if an offense is a felony offense. Currently, those premises are off-limits only to those convicted of a “felony of violence,” which House said is a meaningless term.

– House Bill 1057 would require cultivation facility and dispensary applicants and agents, along with caregivers, to obtain criminal background checks.

– House Bill 1298 would require that licenses for dispensaries and cultivation facilities be given to a natural person, not a corporation.

– House Bill 1369 would create an operations fund funded by sales tax revenues in order to pay for administrative costs. House said the bill would ensure the costs of the program are paid first. Joel DiPippa, an attorney with the Department of Finance and Administration’s Office of Revenue Legal Counsel, said DFA expects the industry to produce $40-$45 million in gross revenues annually, producing $2.5 million in sales taxes to pay for regulation costs that should be $4-5 million a year.

– House Bill 1370 would authorize the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division to regulate advertising, marketing, packaging and promotion by dispensaries and cultivation facilities to ensure the marijuana products are not appealing to children.

– House Bill 1371 would amend the amendment to say that individuals owning 60% of the interest in a dispensary or cultivation facility must have been Arkansas residents for the previous seven years. The amendment currently says that 60% of the owners must be Arkansas residents, which would mean a facility would qualify even if that percentage of owners controlled very small parts of the company. The bill also says criminal background checks will be conducted on all owners, board members, and officers of the dispensary or cultivation facility.