Medical Marijuana board expedites effort to review dispensary applications, get pot to market

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 1,012 views 

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is accelerating the timeline to receive offers from prospective third-party contractors to score and review more than 200 medical marijuana dispensary applications, according to bid proposal details released Wednesday (Aug. 1) by the five-person regulatory panel.

Instead of an original 30 to 45 days schedule to get back responses to the commission’s proposal to scour dispensaries applications, the Department of Finance and Administration’s (DFA) Office of Procurement’s “scope of work” (SOW) proposal sent out Tuesday (July 31) was stamped with an Aug. 16, 2 p.m. “due by” date to receive bids from eligible companies competing for the “low-bid” contract. The applications have been on hold since September,

In two specially-called meetings in July to discuss turning this task over to an outside contractor, the AMMC commissioners groused about a longer timetable that would take a minimum of 30 days. However, the tighter deadline will cut that schedule in half, said DFA spokesman Scott Hardin.

“While a 30-day time frame was initially discussed, upon finalizing the scope of work documents we are confident an Aug. 16 deadline gives companies adequate time to develop and submit a response. A two-week turnaround is not unusual in procurement,” said Hardin, who serves as the AMMC media liaison.

The speedier response turnaround will also allow the winning contractor to get to work sooner on the mammoth task of reviewing and the handing out 32 licenses for medical pot retail dispensaries across the state. Under state rules, up to four licenses can be approved in eight quadrants of the state.

In the earlier process to score and award licenses for the highly-sought-after medical cultivation facilities or greenhouses, it took the five commissioners more than three months to score and then award five licenses to Arkansas-based companies in late February. Those licenses, which were primarily awarded to companies in the Arkansas Delta, were not ratified by the commission until late July due to legal challenges that went all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

It is possible those legal challenges could re-emerge after the commissioners approved a recommendation at July 26 meeting to keep all 85 applications that were reviewed and scored by the commissioners for up to two years, except bids for 13 companies that were not fully compliant with AMMC’s regulations. Under the rules approved by the legislature in the 2017 session, the AMMC has the authority to expand the number of pot cultivation facilities from five to 8 if the need arises as the state’s medical pot industry grows.

According to details from the six-page SOW included in the bid proposal for the 32 dispensary licenses, once a low-cost bidder is selected and financial terms are met, the contractor will attend a project kick-off meeting with the AMMC board and other representatives to establish a clear understanding of the requirements and process for the project.

“The scoring team members shall begin work on the scoring process immediately after the project kick-off and after being provided the necessary documents,” the SOW document states.

Under the general services requirement of the state contract, the 203 dispensary applications will be made available to the contractor and then scored in accordance with rules of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment legislation enacted by the legislature in May 2017 and later promulgated by the DFA and Arkansas Beverage Control Board staff.

With a contract and instructions in hand, the independent consulting firm must then deliver final score reporting and ranking on a spreadsheet provided by the commission within 30 days of the kick-off meeting or by an alternate date approved by the five-person regulatory panel. After the submission of the final scoring results, the contractor and scoring team must attend or be made able by conference call or other means to answer questions at an AMMC called public meeting to announce the final results.

Under this timetable, the dispensary scoring could be completed as early as mid- or late-September, well ahead of the “best case scenario” year-end schedule AMMC board members had discussed in earlier meetings. According to industry experts, growing medical cannabis indoors usually takes about a week to flower and then up to two months until harvest, depending on the strain needed by a dispensary for marijuana product.

Although licenses have been awarded by AMMC for five pot greenhouses, primarily in the Arkansas Delta, no construction projects have been announced yet. Last month, during a legislative hearing where lawmakers gave the AMMC board the go ahead to hire an outside consultant to score the dispensary applications, Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, said he has asked for an opinion from Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge whether the application of one of the five winning cultivation licenses should be thrown out because the proposed site for a pot greenhouse is too close to a school.

To date, the AGs office has not rendered an opinion on Sample’s question, which could potentially impact the construction of two medical pot greenhouses in Jackson County near the Arkansas State University campus in Newport.

According to the Arkansas Department of Health, 5,684 medical marijuana registry cards have been issued to qualified patients and caregivers as of July 27, up 45 from a week ago. Under state rules, medical marijuana ID cards will be issued approximately 30 days prior to cannabis hitting the shelf at a state-approved pot pharmacy.

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