The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission has not yet received applications for pot-growing and cultivation facilities as of Wednesday (Aug. 30), and there have only been two submissions to locate a cannabis dispensary within the state less than three weeks before the state’s legislature-approved deadline.
At the same time, the state Department of Health has approved nearly 800 medical marijuana registry identification cards allowing citizens to obtain Arkansas-grown, doctor-prescribed pot and other cannabis-related medical products. Cards will not be provided to patients until a month before product is available.
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.
DFA spokesman Scott Hardin said state officials are receiving inquiries every day concerning the applications for medical marijuana cultivation and dispensaries, adding that the Commission will remain close-mouthed about the process until the mid-September deadline.
“Other than announcing the actual applicants that have been licensed, we don’t plan to make any announcements on the process to select the winners,” Hardin said.
‘MAD RUSH’ AHEAD OF DEADLINE
Despite the slow sign-up process to create the infrastructure for the state’s fledgling cannabis trade, industry officials and the chief architect of promulgating legislation for the industry believe there will be a rush of applications ahead of the Sept. 18 close date.
Last month, speaking to concerned municipal officials at the annual meeting of the Arkansas Association of Counties (AAC), Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, said he had conversations with several investor groups planning to compete for the cultivation and dispensary licenses the state will hand out later this year.
“I think there is going to be a ‘mad rush’ on the last day,” House told ACC conventioneers in Little Rock in mid-August. House sponsored more than 50 medical marijuana bills approved by the legislature in the spring.
According to the state Beverage Control (ABC) board, further rules and policies will be promulgated by policymakers in the coming months on how the cultivation and dispensary operators will process, distribute and transport medical marijuana beyond legislation that was approved by lawmakers earlier this year.
Dr. Regina Thurman of Fayetteville, chair of the newly created state Medical Marijuana Association (AMMA), expects a robust industry to emerge once the application process is completed and medical marijuana cultivation centers and retailers are in place.
“What we are trying to do is to provide good legislation and good (policy) for the dispensaries and the cultivation centers, as well as the businesses and physicians so that can protect everyone that is involved in this new emerging economy,” Thurman said. “It is going to be difficult, but what we hope for is that we have a good policy in place so that we can help treat our patients that have chronic pain and that we can do it safety.”
FOIA RULE EXEMPTION IN PLACE
To support those patients, ADH began accepting applications for medical marijuana registry identification cards on July 1. As of Wednesday (Aug. 30), ADH spokeswoman Katie White told Talk Business & Politics there have been 769 completed and approved applications since state health officials began receiving those submissions.
White also said the ADH to date has not collected demographic data on the persons who have received medical marijuana IDs.
“The volume of applications is not large enough for us to analyze and release this information. In addition, the program is not yet fully staffed, and the focus at this time is processing applications in a timely manner,” said the Health Department spokeswoman. “The ADH will hire or assign an epidemiologist to spend part of their time on the work of the program in the future, and their role will involve cleaning and analyzing data for reports.”
In addition, White said, the ADH will provide an annual report with selected demographic data per the requirement in new state law approved by the General Assembly during the 2017 legislative session.
“As the program and volume of applications grow, the ADH will evaluate and decide if additional reports are need on a more frequent basis than annually,” White said, adding that for now state officials will provide updated numbers of completed and approved applications every Friday.
Hardin also said that until all the applications pot-growers and dispensary owners are received by the state next month, the state Freedom of Information Act exemption applies. Under the FOIA provisions for the medical marijuana regulations passed into law during the 2017 session, state open records law exempts the Commission from releasing information that might give an advantage to one competitor or bidder.
However, once the deadline is passed, the applications will be open to public inspection, officials said. Despite those FOIA restrictions, some medical marijuana industry officials have said some applicants are wary of information about their applications being leaked and opened up to public inspection ahead of the Sept. 18 deadline.