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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp is robed by his daughter Erin Brogdon during an oath of office ceremony in 2017 in the courtroom. - Photo by Benjamin Krain

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for the state to launch its medical marijuana program, reversing and dismissing a judge's ruling that prevented officials from issuing the first license for businesses to grow the drug.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen ruled in March that the state's process for awarding medical marijuana cultivation licenses was unconstitutional. He said the process violated the 2016 voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized marijuana for patients with certain conditions in Arkansas.

[DOCUMENT: Read Arkansas Supreme Court's majority opinion + concurring opinion in medical marijuana case]

Griffen's order prevented the state's Medical Marijuana Commission from awarding cultivation licenses to five businesses it had identified as the top scoring firms among 95 applicants that sought the permits.

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Griffen did not have jurisdiction to halt the licenses. In the ruling, the court said the Arkansas Constitution prevents one branch of government from exercising another branch's power.

Writing for the majority, Justice Rhonda Wood said that the Arkansas Constitution prohibits one branch of government from exerting powers belonging to another branch.

"The judicial branch must not abdicate this by reviewing the day-to-day actions of the executive branch,” Wood wrote.

Chief Justice Dan Kemp wrote a separate concurring opinion.

Latest medical marijuana headlines


The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission won’t take any action on cannabis growing licenses for at least two weeks — the time it takes for a Supreme Court order to become final.

“At that point the Medical Marijuana Commission, with the ability to continue any action that was underway or scheduled prior to the injunction, will announce the next steps in this process,” said Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration, which provides administrative support to the commission.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who had opposed the medical marijuana amendment, said he was pleased with the court's ruling.

"The justices have not only expedited this case in the public interest but also recognized the limited role of the judiciary in reviewing discretionary decisions made by an executive branch agency," Hutchinson said in a statement.

The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by an unsuccessful applicant that argued the process for awarding the licenses was flawed. The company, Naturalis Health, cited two potential conflicts of interest by members of the commission. Attorneys for Naturalis did not immediately return messages Thursday morning.

The company also claimed officials did not verify applicants' assertions that their facilities would be the required distance from churches, schools and day cares. Naturalis ranked 38th out of the 95 applications submitted, officials have said.

However, attorneys for the state and the companies set to receive the licenses argued that Griffen's court didn't have jurisdiction to hear Naturalis' complaint.

Keith Billingsley, an attorney for Naturalis, said he was talking with the company about what steps they wanted to take in response to Thursday's ruling.

"We believe there was ample evidence as set forth in our briefs and as discussed with Judge Griffen to determine that the court has jurisdiction to do what it did," Billingsley said.

Griffen's ruling effectively halted the launch of Arkansas' medical marijuana program. State officials in April announced the commission would stop reviewing applications for dispensaries to sell medical marijuana in response to Griffen's ruling. Arkansas has approved more than 5,300 applications for patients to use medical marijuana and will issue registry cards about a month before the drug is expected to be legally available.

The court's ruling did not mention a letter the attorney general's office filed with the court detailing a commissioner's claim that he was offered a bribe by another unsuccessful applicant but did not accept it. The letter, which was unsealed hours after justices heard the case over the halted licenses, said the bribery allegation remained unsubstantiated and was being investigated by law enforcement.

Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporters John Moritz and Hunter Field contributed to this story.

Comments

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  • tngilmer
    June 21, 2018 at 4:04 p.m.

    How much longer will Arkansas tolerate the madman known as Griffin? He should have disbarred and removed from the bench long ago.

  • LRCrookAttorney
    June 21, 2018 at 4:29 p.m.

    Just always remember, it depends on what the definition of "is" is. I believe this decision is good for the Arkansas public that needs this. It is bad because it gave the legal ability to the MMC commissioners to pick their buddies and help them get richer. However, the SC did leave open a possible suit, after the ones denied receives letters of denial.

  • JPRoland
    June 21, 2018 at 5:57 p.m.

    Thank you! -Five year Parkinson's patient.

  • NoUserName
    June 21, 2018 at 5:57 p.m.

    Not a fan of Griffen, but in this case, and given recent history with our legislature, this process was likely extremely flawed. And so stopping it and starting over was probably in our best interest.

  • JPRoland
    June 21, 2018 at 6:10 p.m.

    Now that it is known to be a beneficial drug and now a year and a half after it was voted in may we please not refer to it as "weed" or "pot." It is Cannabis or Marijuana. You write about Valium and oxycontin and don't call them, "downers" so knock it off.

  • JMort69
    June 21, 2018 at 8:16 p.m.

    This publication was against the legalization of MM, so this is just more of their denegration of those of us who need it. I have noticed that many in the press in our state grin and wink when talking about this. I'll tell you what. Try having nausea from multiple stomach issues like I do about 4 days a week and have the doctors tell you there is nothing more they can do for you. See how snide you are then. Or, maybe they're laughing at the man who begged for months in various state publications for this to be implemented to help his son who had multiple siezures. His son died before this ever got off the ground. Are they laughing at that? For a profession like newspaper reporters, who are known for their boozing, I find this ridiculously hypocritical. But, in the end, who cares what they think or how calloused they are? We voted it in, and we will have it, that is, if we live long enough.

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