The state Medical Marijuana Commission announced Friday (Aug. 17) that it has received two varied proposals to review and score the state’s 203 applications to locate up to 32 medical marijuana pharmacies across every corner of Arkansas. The low-quote bid, for just under $100,000, comes from a Boston area consulting firm that has previous ties to the state.
According to Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) spokesman Scott Hardin, who is the AMMC’s media liaison, the two quotes were received and “opened” on Thursday. Now, the DFA’s Procurement team will work with the Arkansas Beverage Control Board’s legal staff to finalize the agreement with Boston-based Public Consulting Group (PCG) under the state’s “lowest bid” requirements.
“Once that is finalized, we will schedule an introductory meeting between the Commission and the company via teleconference,” Hardin said. “From the date the agreement is signed, the company has 30 days to review and score the dispensary applications.”
Information provided to Talk Business & Politics shows that the East Coast consulting firm submitted a bid of $99,472. IFC Incorporated LLC, a Fairfax, Va.-based contract that has won federal sole source contracts with the Pentagon and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, submitted a much higher bid for $361,514.
On its website, BCG calls itself “a leading public sector management consulting and operations improvement firm that partners with health, education, and human services agencies to improve lives.” It lists such partners as Atlanta’s Clark University and industry tech giants Microsoft Corp. and Amazon Inc.
DFA data shows PCG has won eight other contracts with the State of Arkansas going back to 2012, including bids for miscellaneous consulting services and other tech-related consulting and management work. Those contracts total more than $5.6 million, ranging from $100,000 to $1.43 million. The latest contract award was on May 18 for work as a database consultant for the state of Arkansas worth nearly $1.15 million.
Just over two weeks ago, the five-person regulatory board accelerated the timeline to receive offers from prospective third-party contractors to score and review the 203 dispensary applications that have been placed on hold for nearly a year now.
Instead of an original 30 to 45 day 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 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.
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. The speedier response turnaround will also allow the winning contractor to get to work sooner on the mammoth task of reviewing and 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, 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.
MEDICAL CANNABIS COULD BE READY BY SPRING 2019
Once PCG can start work on the application for medical marijuana pharmacies, they will be 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 ABC staff.
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 Robert deBin, president of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association (ACIA) in Fort Smith, the life cycle to grow cannabis products indoors is about 120 days. That includes one week to germinate the cannabis seed, about 50 days in a vegetative period, and another 60 days in a flower period. Then it must be dried and cured, which takes about one week, he said.
“To my knowledge, none of the five cultivators are starting with greenhouses. All will be indoor, warehouse-type grows,” deBin said of the cannabis growing process in Arkansas. Prior to the holdups from legal challenges of unsuccessful applicants, cultivators were on schedule to provide natural medicinal cannabis by the time dispensaries were ready to open their doors, he said.
“However considering those legal delays, combined with the commission’s recent decision to outsource, and therefore expedite, the evaluation of dispensary applications, the timeline is not what it originally was,” said the ACIA president, adding that a “quick-moving” dispensary with an existing building could be ready to open prior to being able to stock their shelves.
“We are confident that the cultivators are doing everything in their power to start production as soon as possible,” he said. “Although a small gap is possible, we expect the five cultivators to be able to supply the needs of the medical cannabis community in Arkansas once they are fully operational this spring.”
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, 5,783 medical marijuana registry cards have been issued to qualified patients and caregivers as of Aug. 13, up 99 from two weeks ago. Under state rules, medical marijuana ID cards will be issued approximately 30 days prior to cannabis hitting the shelf at a state-approved medical marijuana dispensary.