Arkansas’ first medical marijuana growers were officially licensed Tuesday afternoon after a controversial scoring process and months-long court battle.
The Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling, reversing a lower court’s decision and dismissing an unsuccessful cultivation license applicant’s lawsuit, became official Tuesday, clearing the way for the official issuing of the licenses.
The licenses were awarded to:
• Natural State Medicinals Cultivation of Jefferson County
• BOLD Team of Woodruff County
• Natural State Wellness Enterprises of Jackson County
• Osage Creek Cultivation of Carroll County
• Delta Medical Cannabis Company of Jackson County
The injunction was issued in March by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. He ruled that the award process violated the state's 2016 constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana. The state Supreme Court reversed Griffen's decision last month.
A host of allegations and irregularities in the process for scoring the 95 applications for cultivation looms, and a spokesman for the Finance Department said those issues will be investigated by the Alcoholic Beverage and Control Division.
The state's Medical Marijuana Commission is set to meet Thursday. The meeting will include a "discussion of next steps regarding unsuccessful cultivation applications," according to a news release.
Licenses were awarded after each company paid a $100,000 license fee and a $500,000 performance bond.
Dustin McDaniel, an attorney for and investor in Natural State Wellness Enterprises, said the company is looking forward to beginning cultivating as soon as possible.
"The voters have made it clear that they want this medication made available to patients expeditiously and we will work diligently to do that," McDaniel said.
One potential roadblock is that there are currently no licensed dispensaries. The commission has received about 230 applications for 32 dispensary licenses and is considering hiring an independent consultant to assist reviewing them. On July 12, the commission will review options for hiring the consultant, which will first require an emergency rule change.
The move to hire a consultant was also prompted by allegations of impropriety during the cultivation process. The ruling by Griffen that was overturned supported an unsuccessful cultivation applicant, who had claimed two committee members had conflicts of interest. And in early June, a letter from the Arkansas attorney general revealed that a member of the commission claimed an unsuccessful applicant tried to bribe him.
The commission can issue up to eight cultivation licenses, said Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. However, right now there are no plans to issue any more licenses.
Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Hunter Field and The Associated Press contributed to this story.