Texarkana, TX 31° View Live Radar Sun H 46° L 30° Mon H 56° L 45° Tue H 59° L 32° Weather Sponsored By:

Arkansas selects first 32 medical marijuana dispensaries

Arkansas selects first 32 medical marijuana dispensaries

January 10th, 2019 by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Arkansas News

People fill the room Wednesday as the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission considers a consulting firm's scores of applications for medical marijuana dispensaries. (Mitchell PE Masilun)

Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette /Texarkana Gazette.

The panel tasked with issuing Arkansas' first medical marijuana growing and selling permits on Wednesday cleared the final bureaucratic hurdle blocking the drug's implementation in the Natural State by selecting the state's first dispensary operators.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, in a unanimous vote, accepted a consulting firm's scores of the 199 applications for the first 32 dispensaries.

The vote inches Arkansas closer to becoming one of 33 states with broad medical marijuana programs, and state officials expect the drug to be available in April.

Arkansas approved Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution, legalizing medical cannabis, in 2016. But court challenges and regulatory hurdles have bogged down the program's implementation, frustrating patients and businessmen alike.

The commission in August outsourced the dispensary application scoring to Boston-based Public Consulting Group after commissioners themselves scored the applications for cannabis-growing permits.

That cultivation scoring process was attacked by disgruntled applicants in public and in court pleadings, including allegations of conflicts of interest among the commission. In addition to removing any hint of bias, commissioners also said that an independent consultant could complete the evaluations in a less time.

The commissioners' main concerns on Wednesday centered on whether Public Consulting Group equipped its five-member scoring team to evaluate whether applicants would be offering adequate strains to treat the 18 qualifying patient conditions.

After more than 90 minutes, it was Commissioner Travis Story, a Fayetteville attorney, who made the motion to accept the firm's scores. Story last year voted against outsourcing dispensary grading over concerns that the commission was abdicating its duty.

Related Article

List of approved medical marijuana dispensaries

Read more

"I'm willing to read thousands of pages; I've done it once and I'll do it again," Story said. "But at the same time, we need to get this process moving."

The packed crowd met Wednesday's decision with a mixed response. Several unsuccessful dispensary applicants complained that Public Consulting Group's process was flawed, and one even interrupted the meeting to voice his concerns.

However, several patients in attendance clapped when Story moved to accept the scores.

The winners have a week to pay a $15,000 licensing fee and post a $100,000 performance bond before the state officially issues a permit.

The 32 dispensaries will be spread across eight zones in Arkansas based on population. Some of the dispensaries have elected to grow up to 50 mature cannabis plants, but data on which dispensaries will grow the drug weren't available on Wednesday.

The majority of medical marijuana will be grown by five cultivation companies that received licenses in July. Four of those five companies have begun construction. The fifth, Delta Medical Cannabis Co. of Newport, has been awaiting commission action on its request to move a mile and a half down the street. The commission on Wednesday approved Delta Medical's request.

It remains unclear where all 32 dispensaries will be placed because several companies submitted multiple applications for cannabis-selling permits. Those companies must pick one location to operate, freeing up a license in another regional zone.

Several of the same companies that received growing permits also were selected to receive dispensary licenses.

Public Consulting Group's five-member team was structured to mirror the commission, including experts from the medical, legal, government, cannabis and pharmacy fields.

Thomas Aldridge, a manager over the firm's health section, said that the scorers were trained to minimize scoring inconsistencies. The group didn't independently vet the veracity of the claims in each application, but, like the commission evaluations of the cultivation applications, looked at the information in each proposal.

"The contents of each application were taken at face value," Aldridge said.

Those applications are sure to be pored over by disgruntled applicants in the coming weeks, and legal observers have speculated that lawsuits are likely to be filed against the commission.

As of Friday, the Arkansas Department of Health had approved 6,764 patients for medical marijuana ID cards, which allows them to legally purchase, possess and use the drug. To obtain a card, patients must receive certification from a doctor that they suffer from one of 18 qualifying conditions. The cards cost $50, and they must be renewed annually for the same price.

The agency announced last week that it would begin issuing the cards next month. The announcement set off a legal debate about whether qualifying patients should bring in cannabis from Oklahoma, which recently rolled out its medical marijuana program, until the first Arkansas dispensary opens.

Some patients advocates and state officials, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson, discouraged patients from transporting the drug across state lines because federal law would be violated. They also cautioned that transporting the drug would violate rules promulgated by the commission, which require the drug to be sold and grown in Arkansas.

However, David Couch, the Little Rock attorney who drafted Amendment 98, said that he would be comfortable buying cannabis in Oklahoma and bringing it back to Arkansas. Couch noted that patients will be breaking federal law regardless of whether they cross state lines because marijuana remains on the list of federally controlled substances.

He also said that he intentionally excluded language from the amendment that would have required patients to buy cannabis in Arkansas because he predicts that the substance won't remain federally illegal forever, and he didn't want to place any unnecessary barriers in the way of patients.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Texarkana Gazette Comments Policy

The Texarkana Gazette web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Gazette web sites and any content on the Gazette web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Gazette, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Gazette web sites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Texarkana Gazette
15 Pine Street
Texarkana, TX 75501
Phone: 903-794-3311
Email: webeditor@texarkanagazette.com