The state Medical Marijuana Commission on Thursday (Sept. 25) officially agreed to a pact with Boston-based Public Consulting Group to review and score 203 pot dispensary applications and then select up to 32 startup companies to kickstart the fledgling industry by fall.
The agreement comes more than one year after 227 applications for Arkansas’ first pot dispensaries were submitted to the commission ahead of the original Sept. 18, 2017 deadline. Since then, 24 proposals that did not meet minimum requirements have been thrown out for various reasons, Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin told Talk Business & Politics.
“With this agreement final, a meeting will now be scheduled between the five members of the (Commission) and officials from Public Consulting Group to discuss the scoring process. A date for the meeting has not been determined but will be announced soon,” said Hardin, who serves as the media liaison for the state’s first regulators of legalized pot.
At the end of the upcoming introductory meeting that will be held at the headquarters of the Arkansas Beverage Control Board, PCG executives are expected to participate by conference call. Afterward, the commission will provide 203 dispensary applications to PCG to begin review and scoring immediately, Hardin said.
In August, the medical marijuana regulatory panel received two proposals from PCG and ICF Incorporated at $99,472.00 and $361,514.00, respectively, to review and score the tabled applications that have been on hold for several months due to legal challenges and the commission’s decision to outsource the scoring process.
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.
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. All dispensaries and cultivation facilities licenses will expire one (1) years after the date of issuance.
The number of dispensary licenses issued in Arkansas will be 32, spread across Arkansas’ four congressional districts. The two-tiers of dispensaries will include those who grow up to 50 mature marijuana plants and those who do not. Dispensaries who grow will be charged a $25,000 license fee and an annual $32,500 fee. Dispensaries who do not grow, or “storefront” retail locations, will require a $2,500 initial license fee and an annual $10,000 fee.
Hardin told Talk Business & Politics last week that if all goes as expected, the dispensary licenses could be issued in November. According to Robert deBin, president of the Fort Smith-based Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association (ACIA), 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.
If dispensary licenses were handed out by Thanksgiving, deBin’s three-month timetable means that cannabis products could be on the shelf in Arkansas by the spring of 2019. As of today, 6,084 medical marijuana registry cards have been approved for issuance to qualified patients and caregivers. Under state rules, medical marijuana ID cards will not be available for printing until one month prior to medical pot being available at local dispensaries.