Medical marijuana business applications see end-of-the-month surge

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 1,599 views 

Natural State of Kind was part of an end-of the-month surge of applications to open pot-growing facilities and retail dispensaries inside Arkansas state boundaries as industry officials anticipate a rush of submissions ahead of the state’s Sept. 18 deadline.

Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration spokesman Scott Hardin told Talk Business & Politics that Wednesday was the busiest filing day for cultivation and dispensary applications since the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission opened the highly competitive process on June 30.

“We now have a total of five dispensary applications and two for cultivation,” Hardin said, adding that the Commission expected to receive additional applications later today.

In early May, the Legislature approved the proposed emergency and regular rules that were submitted by the state Department of Finance and Administration (DFA). On June 30, the Commission began accepting bids for five operators to up to eight marijuana growing facilities and another 32 dispensary applicants to operate up to 40 retail locations in four quadrants of the state.

Once applications are delivered to the commission by Sept. 18, those accepted will be time-stamped and applicants must then submit a payment voucher for the required fee of $15,000. Applicants will be able to modify a submitted application at any time prior to the final submission deadline, which will be subject to the state Freedom of Information Act. Applicants must also provide proof of assets or a surety bond in the amount of $1 million and proof of at least $500,000 in liquid assets.

Storm Nolan, founder of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association (ACIA), has said he expects a “deluge of applications” ahead of September’s deadline, and also expressed frustration with some media reports suggesting that medical cannabis might not be available because of lack of sufficient interest in the state’s newest industry. In addition, the Arkansas Department of Health has only approved 769 applications for doctor-approved medical marijuana ID cards to buy pot, far short of the 20,000 to 40,000 predicted by some industry officials.

“There will be plenty of applications submitted in the end. Just because applicant groups are waiting until the last minute doesn’t mean that there’s little interest in people opening dispensaries and cultivation facilities,” said Nolan, a Fort Smith real estate developer.

Nolan said the vast majority of investors groups that his trade group is working and speaking with have not turned in their applications because they are still working on assembling all of the necessary documents for the intricate process, and there is some confusion expressed by potential applications about early applications being subject to state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provisions.

A recent advisory memo issued by the Commission on Aug. 11 clarified the FOIA concerns and addressed a number of other FAQs, or “frequently asked questions,” asked by applicant, ranging from questions about how close could a pot-growing greenhouse be located to a school or daycare center to whether or not pharmacy consultants had to be licensed as agents to work at a cannabis dispensary.

Little Rock-based Natural State of Kind announced Thursday (Aug. 31) it had filed an application for growing facilities and retail dispensaries.

Natural State CEO Jason Martin praised state officials for their work in helping to launch the nascent industry, including Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Mary Robin Casteel and her staff “for their professionalism and thoroughness during the initial application review.” He also said Arkansas State Police officials were “professional” even in the face of an “overwhelming volume” of work.

“The application process also requires a visit to the Arkansas Department of Finance to pay application fees, and similar to my experience with the ABC and state police, despite being tasked with completing this process for the first time, I was greeted with positive attitudes and smiling faces as their staff made the best of a chaotic time and situation. It’s the little things like these one does not experience everywhere, and which make me so proud to be an Arkansan.

Natural State of Kind first geared up for the medical marijuana industry in 2012, but Arkansas voters rejected that medical marijuana amendment. Martin said they decided to enter the business in other states so that if Arkansas voters did approve a measure, they would be better prepared. The investors behind Natural State have operations in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and industrial hemp operations in Kentucky and North Carolina.

“We’re trying to use our experiences and our lessons learned (from the other states) and bring that to Arkansas,” Martin told Talk Business & Politics, adding that the goal was to eventually “create a flagship location here in the state of Arkansas.”

But even with that background, Martin said in a statement the process was still time-consuming.

“There were hundreds of hours of labor involved in the building of our applications. Even though our owners and staff are seasoned in this industry and currently operate in over six states, the process is still laborious to get right. We are thrilled to see our dreams coming to fruition and hope to soon be a part of the medical cannabis industry in our home state. We hope the industry knowledge and experience we have acquired over the last five years will benefit us locally.”

Talk Business & Politics Executive Editor Michael Tilley contributed to this story.