Regulators to meet with cannabis dispensary scorers on Oct. 16

by Wesley Brown ( 963 views 

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission on Monday (Oct. 1) scheduled a meeting with a Boston consulting firm in nearly two weeks to score and review the nearly 200 medical cannabis dispensary applications that have been waiting in queue for more than two years.

On Friday, the five-person commission agreed to a pact with Boston-based Public Consulting Group (PCG) to review and score 203 pot dispensary applications and then select up to 32 startup companies to kickstart the fledgling industry by late fall.

At Monday’s meeting, which was held at the offices of the Arkansas Beverage Control (ABC) Board, the five commissioners agreed over a phone-in conference call to meet with PCG executives in person on Oct. 16 before handing off the task to expedite the process.

“I think that was anticipated that they would send some representatives for the kick-off meeting in person,” said ABC Director Mary Ann Casteel, whose agency will regulate the state’s medical marijuana industry.

Last week’s pact with PCG comes more than one year after 227 applications for Arkansas’ first dispensaries were submitted to the commission ahead of the original Sept. 18, 2017 deadline. Before PCG was hired, 24 proposals that did not meet minimum requirements were thrown out for various reasons.

Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin told Talk Business & Politics that another five applications were also removed from the pool of proposals over the weekend after one company decided to voluntary quit the process. That company had a total of five dispensary applications, Hardin said, which whittles the total list of medical marijuana retail proposals that PCG will have to score to only 198.

The AMMC first began accepting bids on June 30, 2017 for up to five marijuana growing facilities and another 32 dispensary applicants to operate in eight quadrants of the state. At the Sept. 18, 2017 deadline, there were 322 applicants that submitted bids for cultivation facilities and dispensaries to the state’s newest regulatory agency.

In the earlier process to score and award licenses for the highly-sought-after medical cultivation facilities or cannabis greeneries, 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 cultivation facilities from five to eight if the need arises as the state’s medical marijuana industry grows.

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 can 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.

In other business, the five-person regulatory panel approved several emergency clean-up rules following a legislature-approved comment period. One proposal would allow the commission to keep over 300 losing applications for cultivation facilities and dispensary locations submitted to state regulators a year ago on hold for more than two years.

A second measure will allow medical marijuana regulators to develop, with the help of Arkansas Beverage Control Board (ABC) staff, new rules for a “double-blind” lottery in case of a tie for one of the highly-sought-after licenses for five pot cultivation centers and up to 32 dispensary locations across the state.

The third measure allowed for the state to hire an independent consulting firm to review and score the waiting applications to operate dispensaries, which put the regulatory panel back on schedule to have medical cannabis products on the shelf by mid-2019. All of those proposals, which were unanimously approved by the five commissioners, will now have to go back to the Arkansas Legislative Council’s (ALC) executive subcommittee later this month to get the lawmakers’ sign-off on the amended rules.

Those rules were approved mainly because the terms of two commissioners on the five-person panel that regulate the state’s fledgling medical marijuana industry will expire in November, two years after Arkansas voters approved the constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis for medical use in the fall election in 2016.

The five members of the commission were announced in December 2016 by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, and outgoing Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy. Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman of Little Rock, appointed by Hutchinson, serves as chair. Gillam appointed Dr. Stephen Carroll, a pharmacist from Benton, and Travis Story, a Fayetteville attorney. Dismang appointed James Miller of Bryant and Dr. J. Carlos Roman, a Little Rock physician. Roman’s and Carroll’s two-year terms expire at the end of 2018.