A son of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a law firm associated with a former governor and a relative of a recent U.S. Senate candidate are among those with ties to the state's burgeoning medical marijuana industry, according to documents unveiled this week.
The state released redacted versions of hundreds of applications to open one of the state's first dispensaries or medical marijuana cultivation centers.
The names of the applicants and their business partners were blacked out on the applications. The law requires that people, rather than businesses, be applicants.
A spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration said the redactions were done to maintain the anonymity of the applicants while they are being reviewed and scored by the Medical Marijuana Commission. The commission will ultimately pick the winning bids.
However, the applications included the names of the applicants' businesses and corporations, as well as the registered agents associated with those entities.
Because of the redactions, the documents do not reveal whether the agents have stakes in the businesses or are merely acting as legal intermediaries.
For example, Asa Hutchinson III is the listed agent for DB Science LLC on an application for a cultivation facility in Washington County. The younger Hutchinson is an attorney in that county and a son of the governor. The younger Hutchinson also is listed as the incorporator/organizer of DB Science LLC under its business listing with the secretary of state's office.
The state's business files also list Hutchinson III, 42, as the agent for several dozen other businesses in Northwest Arkansas. Several of those businesses, including his law firm, list Hutchinson III as the organizer/incorporator.
Multiple messages left Friday for the younger Hutchinson were not returned. Dale Benedict, who is listed as the managing member of DB Sciences on its business listing, also could not be reached for comment.
A spokesman for the governor's office declined to comment Friday.
Gov. Hutchinson, a Republican who formerly headed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, publicly opposed Issue 6, the ballot initiative that Arkansas voters approved in November 2016 to legalize medical marijuana. Most state lawmakers also opposed the proposal, which became Amendment 98.
In addition to the governor's son, the uncle of former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Conner Eldridge was listed as the registered agent for a dispensary application by Woodruff County Herbal Partners LLC. Reached by phone Friday, Charles Eldridge said he was a partner in the business, which is seeking licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana.
Conner Eldridge, a former federal prosecutor, said during his unsuccessful bid for the Senate last year that he supported the use of medical marijuana. Charles Eldridge said Friday that he had not spoken with his nephew or anyone outside his immediate family about his application.
The Roberts Law Firm in Little Rock also served as the registered agent for several incorporated medical marijuana businesses, according to state business records. The firm's managing partner is Arkansas Economic Development Commission Chairman Mike Roberts and former Gov. Mike Beebe as an "of counsel" attorney for the firm.
Two of those businesses associated with the Roberts firm have dissolved since they were incorporated last year, records show. A third, Comprehensive Care Group LLC of Little Rock, is an applicant for a cultivation facility in St. Francis County.
A person who answered the phone at the law firm Friday said the firm would "not confirm or deny" anything about its work. Through a spokesman, Beebe said his work with the firm did not involve any applications for medical marijuana businesses. According to the firm's website, Beebe serves as an adviser to The Roberts Group, which encompasses the law firm and related businesses.
In total, the state received 322 applications for medical marijuana business licenses: 227 for a dispensary, 95 for cultivation centers.
"I'm not going to be surprised to see anyone's name on there," said David Couch, the Little Rock attorney who was the principal backer of Amendment 98.
Couch said he suspects that many people, especially in political circles, secretly backed the amendment last year and are likely to publicly support the program now that it has received voter approval.
"It's investment-, profit-driven," said Couch, who is a part of a group seeking licenses to grow and sell the drug. "I think there are a lot of people that believe in marijuana as a medicine."
As part of the process of reviewing the applications, each applicant and person with an ownership stake in a proposed business must go through an Arkansas State Police background check. Scott Hardin, a spokesman with the Department of Finance and Administration, said that as of Friday no applicants have been informed that they failed to pass the background checks.
After reviewing the applications for a cultivator's license, the Medical Marijuana Commission is planning to announce those winning bidders in February. The winning bids for dispensary licenses will be announced at a later date.
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Metro on 12/30/2017