Arkansas regulators are on schedule to issue pot dispensary licenses across the state by Thanksgiving if an agreement with a Boston-based consulting group is finalized as expected this week, a spokesman for the state Medical Marijuana Commission (AMMC) told Talk Business & Politics on Monday (Sept. 24).
Just over a month ago, the medical marijuana regulatory panel received two proposals from Public Consulting Group and ICF Incorporated at $99,472.00 and $361,514.00, respectively, to review and score the state’s 203 applications to locate up to 32 medical marijuana pharmacies across every corner of Arkansas.
As of today, the state Department of Finance and Administration’s procurement team is working with the Arkansas Beverage Control Board’s legal staff to finalize the agreement with Boston-based PCG under the state’s “lowest bid” requirements.
“We anticipate it will be finalized this week, possibly as soon as today. We are waiting until the agreement is final before scheduling the meeting between the commissioners and the company,” said DFA spokesman Scott Hardin, who serves as the commission’s media liaison.
Once a deal with PCG is in hand, AMMC we will schedule an introductory meeting between the Commission and the company via teleconference, Hardin said. The timing of the meeting will depend on how quickly the commissioner’s schedules will allow them to meet, he said.
“Immediately following the meeting, 203 dispensary applications will be provided to PCG electronically,” said Hardin. “Upon receiving the applications, the company has 30 days to score and provide the applications back to the Commission. We are currently on track to have the 32 dispensary licenses issued in November.”
DFA data shows PCG has won eight other contracts with 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 worth nearly $1.15 million.
In early August, 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.
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 pot greenery 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.
Once PCG begins 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.
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.
6,084 medical marijuana registry cards have been approved to be issued to qualified patients and caregivers as of Sept. 22. Under state rules, medical marijuana ID cards will be issued approximately 30 days prior to cannabis hitting the shelf at state-approved medical marijuana pharmacies.
MARIJUANA ARRESTS RISE
As legalized pot moves closer to reality in Arkansas, the FBI reported Monday that the number of persons arrested in the U.S. in 2017 for marijuana related violations rose for the second consecutive year. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, police made 659,700 arrests for marijuana-related violations last year. That total is more than 21% higher than the number of arrests for violent crimes (518,617) in 2017.
Of those arrested for marijuana crimes, just under 91% or just under 600,000 were arrested for marijuana possession offenses, a slight increase over the previous year. Total marijuana arrests in 2017 increased for the second straight year, after having fallen for nearly a decade.
The uptick comes at a time when 10 states, including California, have legalized the adult use of cannabis – leading to a significant decline in marijuana-related arrests in those jurisdictions, said officials with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. At the same time, the Trump administrations has also ramped up prosecution of marijuana after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama administration rules that allows states to legalize pot without federal interference.
“Actions by law enforcement run counter to both public support and basic morality,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “In a day and age where 20% of the population lives in states which have legalized and nearly every state has some legal protections for medical cannabis or its extract, the time for lawmakers to end this senseless and cruel prohibition that ruins lives.”
As in previous years, marijuana possession arrests were least likely to occur in the western region of the United States, where possessing the plant has largely been either legalized or decriminalized. By contrast, in Midwestern states, marijuana-related arrests comprised over 53% of all drug arrests.