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story.lead_photo.caption People pack the room where the newly formed Medical Marijuana Commission met Tuesday in Little Rock. The commission, in its second meeting, decided how many cultivation centers to license for growing marijuana for medical use. ( Benjamin Krain)

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission voted Tuesday to allow as many as five cultivation facilities in the state once rules about growing, processing and distribution of the drug are finalized.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, passed by voters in last month's general election, allows from four to eight cultivation centers to be licensed by the commission. The commissioners decided Tuesday, at their second meeting, to start on the smaller end of the scale.

Commissioner Travis Story of Fayetteville said he was concerned that the licensed cultivation facilities would face too much competition at the start if there are more than four.

Story suggested that one center be granted a license in each of the state's congressional districts. However, concerns about the unequal sizes of those districts led another commissioner, Dr. Carlos Roman of Little Rock, to suggest one cultivator be placed in each public health region, of which there are five.

Congressional districts are sized according to population, so the seven-county 2nd District, in central Arkansas, and the nine-county 3rd District, in the northwest, are much smaller than the 1st and 4th districts, which cover about 29 and 30 counties respectively. The state Department of Health's public health regions roughly encompass each corner of the state, with a seven-county central region.

The commission voted 3-2 in favor of Roman's proposal to limit the number of initial cultivation licenses to five. Those voting for it were Roman; Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman of Little Rock, commission chairman, and James Miller of Bryant. Story and Dr. Stephen Carroll of Benton voted no.

However, it was not clear following the vote whether the commissioners also had voted to adopt the plan to have one license in each public health region.

Roman said dividing the centers among the five public health regions was the "spirit" of his motion, but a lawyer advising the commission said the minutes would have to be reviewed to determine what the motion was.

Henry-Tillman said the plan to begin with a limited number of cultivation centers was merely to help ease the state into the process of allowing marijuana to be grown and processed.

"I think at some point we'll have eight," she said, referring to the maximum set in the constitutional amendment.

The commission is not required to begin accepting applications for the cultivators and dispensaries until June 2017, and that date can be pushed back by the Legislature. The regular session starts Jan. 9.

Following the vote, the commissioners discussed their thoughts about what a cultivation center would look like -- ideas ranged from a pastoral farm to a factory -- and what responsibilities should come along with a license from the commission.

The responsibilities proposed by the commissioners included security, packaging and labeling, transportation and quality control. However, no vote was held to establish rules or guidelines.

"I hate it when other people define what we are supposed to define," Story said. "Defining a cultivation facility is within our purview."

The commission unanimously voted to look into possible funding sources to pay for a field trip to tour cultivators and dispensaries in another state where medical marijuana is already being grown and sold.

Joel DiPippa, a Department of Finance and Administration attorney who advised the commission, said he would have to check to find out if travel funds were available to the commissioners.

"This is a very public situation and we don't want to misspend or misappropriate any of the public's money," DiPippa said.

The commission is scheduled to meet again Thursday in Little Rock.

The commission was appointed earlier this month by Gov. Asa Hutchinson; House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia; and Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy.

Metro on 12/21/2016

Print Headline: Licenses for 'pot' growing set at 5


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Archived Comments

  • Testingonetwothree
    December 21, 2016 at 7:48 a.m.

    Joel DiPippa, a Department of Finance and Administration attorney who advised the commission, said he would have to check to find out if travel funds were available to the commissioners.

    "This is a very public situation and we don't want to misspend or misappropriate any of the public's money," DiPippa said..........

    SO if it wasnt so PUBLIC we wouldnt worry about misspending or misappropriating any of the public's money....??????

  • caspertherat
    December 21, 2016 at 9:04 a.m.

    How about the State of Arkansas use some of that valuable state farm land they own and grow the stuff themselves. Lot's easier to control and no one but the state gets rich off of it.

  • drs01
    December 21, 2016 at 9:19 a.m.

    Casper has a great idea....but expand what he suggests by using PRISON farm land....and PRISON INMATES....This approach would have a twofold effect. The state would easily cover the costs of providing the marijuana thereby keeping the tax to the user down. And prisoners would get them a real perk while in jail (grow & use), and perfect OJT (on the job training) for when they are released.

    On a more serious note, I would hope the commission will charge a substantial license fee for what appears to be 5-8 instant multi-million dollar businesses. Casino licenses are worth millions (except in Arkansas where we gave away two for nothing). Let's not make the same mistake with marijuana. In several years, it will be available for recreational use in Arkansas/America and that will mean mega millions to growers.

  • MaxCady
    December 21, 2016 at 10:11 a.m.

    This being Arkansas, you know the rules will be the most discombobulated, convoluted rules that they can come up with. Like calling it something other than marijuana, i.e., electronic games of skill for slot machines. Green, leafy vegetable matter used for pain relief?!! I've already sampled some of Colorado's finest chocolates and gummies and probably like the edibles better than smoking. If only they would look at the Colorado model and take the best from them instead of trying to appease all the bible thumpers here in the state to water it down. And try not to make it appear as if it's something other than what it is.

  • TimberTopper
    December 21, 2016 at 10:52 a.m.

    I'm thinking casper might be on to something there. If set up correctly the crops would produce enough to make the price reasonable and the state could use the money. Maybe grow it in a building so that it is a year round thing, like an old warehouse. That way you'd just have to guard one place and the growers would be state employees that could be searched daily to make sure none was being taken out on the sly. Good one casper.

  • LR1955
    December 21, 2016 at 11:34 a.m.

    If/When it becomes a recreational item, lots of smokers will grow their own.

  • Queen1976
    December 21, 2016 at 2:24 p.m.

    I hope the State of Arkansas recognizes that the taxpayers have voted for this medical herb & go with the people's wishes, rather than try to make things difficult and/or very costly for sick folks!