Newport receives $2.5 million, property in medical marijuana dispute

by George Jared ([email protected]) 1,572 views 

The Newport Economic Development Commission (NEDC) was awarded $2.518 million through mediation related to two separate lawsuits filed after the relocation of a medical marijuana cultivator previously located in Newport.

In November of 2020, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission approved a transfer of Natural State Wellness’s license to Good Day Farms and then approved the transfer of location to Pine Bluff, Jon Chadwell, executive director of the Newport Economic Development Commission, told Talk Business & Politics.

NEDC will receive the land it sold under market value to Natural State along with the building at the location, Chadwell said. The land and building have an assessed value of about $1.475 million and NEDC will receive $1 million in restitution costs, along with all attorney and court filing fees.

That restitution includes staff hours used to develop the project, utilities that were connected to the building free of charge and other associated costs. Chadwell said there was a lot of work put into securing easements from private property owners to allow for the project to move forward and it was disappointing that despite all the efforts not one job was created in Newport.

“We resolved it,” Chadwell said. “We got the building and the land back.”

Natural State submitted its paperwork for the license and location change after the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission had published its agenda in November 2020, meaning no one from NEDC was aware of the proposed move and no one went to the meeting to oppose the changes, Chadwell said. A formal request to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission to reverse the decision to move the facility was made the next meeting several months later, but it was denied.

NEDC, represented by attorney David Couch, filed a lawsuit in April 2021. That lawsuit was followed by another lawsuit in October of 2021 by Couch for the Newport-Jackson County Industrial Development Bond Board to recapture possession of the property sold to Natural State Wellness with all improvements, including the building constructed on the property by Natural State Wellness.

The three main parties in the lawsuits – NEDC, the current and the former owners – entered into a mediation process Wednesday (Feb. 22). After nine hours a settlement was reached, Chadwell said.

“We feel vindicated to receive this settlement from Harvest Health and Good Day Farms on behalf of Newport,” Chadwell said. “We have many exceptional businesses in Newport that are significant partners in growing the community.  However, when a business does not live up to its commitments, we feel obligated to take action behalf of the community.”

Chadwell said he expects the terms of the settlement to be paid in full within the next 30 days. Once the deed to the property and building has been transferred, the building will have to be assessed for repairs and updates. Part of the building is a greenhouse, and Chadwell said they’ve had at least six businesses inquire about its availability during the last year.