Medical Marijuana panel to hand out pot licenses again after high court ruling

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 693 views 

After the Arkansas Supreme Court on Tuesday (July 10) formally lifted a Pulaski County injunction halting the award of medical pot licenses to five Arkansas startups, the state Medical Marijuana Commission (AMMC) restarted where it left off in March before legal wrangling and lawsuits shut down the process.

Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) spokesman Scott Hardin said the AMMC board will move forward with ratifying Arkansas’ first pot-growing licenses awarded to five cultivators at a standing-room only meeting in late February.

“In response to today’s formal lifting of the injunction that halted the issuance of licenses, cultivation licenses were awarded to (these) companies,” said Hardin.

Those winners are Natural State Medicinals Cultivation, Bold Team LLC, Natural State Wellness Enterprises, Osage Creek Cultivation, and Delta Medical Cannabis Company Inc.

Following its earlier decision on Feb. 27, the Commission had required cultivation licenses be issued upon the companies paying the $100,000 license fee and posting a $500,000 performance bond. With each company completing these requirements and the injunction lifted, Hardin said the companies received a formal notification letter of the Commission’s decision and a physical copy of the cultivation license.

Just over two weeks ago, the state’s high court overruled a lower court decision to halt the implementation of the state’s fledgling medical marijuana industry. The state Supreme Court declared that ruling final Tuesday, opening the door for the five-person regulatory panel to continue any action underway or scheduled prior to the injunction.

Following the high court’s decision two weeks ago, Little Rock attorney Alex Gray, who represents the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Association, said the industry trade group is “hopeful that the Court’s decision is a step in the right direction.”

Others are not so sure. Several representatives of companies not receiving one of the five highly-coveted licenses for marijuana cultivation facilities have indicated they plan to pursue a new avenue of legal challenges and complaints concerning the commission’s controversial decision over four months ago. Those complaints will now be taken up by the Arkansas Beverage Control (ABC) board’s enforcement division for investigation and, if warranted, adjudication under Amendment 98 and regulations approved by the legislature in the 2017 session.

Last week, the commission approved a non-binding proposal to explore plans to hire an independent consultant to review and score over 200 dispensary applications to license 32 of the state’s first medical pot retailers. The five-person panel will meet again on Thursday (July 12) at a special called meeting to discuss the bidding procedures and timeline to select and hire an independent consultant to assist the part-time board with scoring of dispensary applications.

On that same agenda, the AMMC directors will discuss hiring staff and confirm publicly that the five cultivation licenses were awarded in line with rules enacted by the legislature and promulgated by the ABC and DFA staffs. The Commission also plans to turn over all complaints and protests concerning the cultivation licenses to ABC investigators.

“Thursday’s scheduled meeting of the MMC will now include a discussion of next steps regarding unsuccessful cultivation applications,” said Hardin.

Before the first cultivation licenses were awarded, the AMMC board had scheduled a board meeting on March 15 to hear complaints and protest letters from many of the 90 losing cultivations that participated in the highly-competitive sweepstakes that began in September for the state’s first legal pot greenhouses. That postponed meeting was expected to draw an overflow crowd to the ABC’s tiny boardroom, where protests were expected to range from alleged scoring discrepancies and conflicts of interest on the five-personal commission to incomplete and fraudulent applications submitted by the five winning cultivators.

Since then, state Chief Justice Dan Kemp has forced Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to release the contents of a letter sent to the AG’s office alleging that one of the five commissioners was offered a bribe by one of the companies hoping to receive of the one of highly-prized cultivation licenses.

The AG’s office, which is investigating the allegations, has yet to release the name of the commissioner who reported the bribe attempt and has offered no timetable for the completion of its inquiry. Discussion of that matter is not on the AMMC’s agenda at Thursday’s meeting, although it could possibly be brought up under “other business” if the board elects to take up the topic.