Members of the public who want to address the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission will get their chance to talk for three minutes each at a public-comment meeting Friday afternoon.
The meeting, scheduled for 3:30-6:30 p.m. Friday at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, is likely to be a wide-ranging affair. Patients, advocates and medical marijuana license applicants have at times previously attempted to speak at the commission's regular meetings.
The meeting comes a week after several lawmakers criticized the process the commission and Alcoholic Beverage Control Division used to issue the state's first medical cannabis growing and selling licenses.
Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, and Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, spoke up during the commission's Oct. 17 meeting, questioning the transparency and fairness of the licensing process.
Brian Bowen, a deputy attorney general who provides legal counsel to the commission, discouraged the commission from hearing testimony from Murdock and Flowers, cautioning that doing so would force the commission to hear from anyone who would like to speak.
The commission and legislators agreed then to a public comment meeting at a later date. At its regular meetings, the commission has not allowed time for public comments.
"I think there are a lot of people that will be pleased to have an opportunity for public comment," Flowers said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I think there will be a strong turnout for those who want to speak."
The cultivation licensing process has been marred by bribery allegations, scoring inconsistencies, purported conflicts of interest and wrongdoing by competing applicants.
Patient frustration has swelled as two years have passed since Arkansans approved Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution. The amendment legalized medical use of the controversial drug, yet the first legal sale of it is still at least months away.
The commission meetings at times have veered away from full order as members of the audience have interrupted or shouted in disapproval.
Melissa Fults, a patient advocate who sponsored a different medical marijuana proposal that voters weren't allowed to consider, said most medical marijuana patients are exhausted and frustrated. She doesn't expect Friday's meeting to make any difference.
"It hasn't made an impact yet," she said. "To tell you the honest truth, I think they'll drag their heels as long as they can drag them."
Those wishing to speak Friday must sign in. Speakers will be limited to three minutes. There won't be much dialogue between commissioners and those speaking, according to a Wednesday news release from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
"In regard to time, this will not be a question and answer session but an opportunity to place remarks on the record for the consideration of the Commission," the release stated. "Questions raised within remarks will be addressed at an upcoming meeting of the MMC (date to be determined)."
Friday's meeting will be held in the law school's Friday Courtroom, which seats 250.
Murdock, one of the legislators who tried to address the commission last week, praised the move, saying it's always good when a government body leans toward transparency and public participation.
"What really matters, though, is what we do with the information," he said. "Listening is part of the equation. What matters is what we do after we listen."
Some people Wednesday questioned the decision to schedule the public comment meeting on a Friday afternoon, wondering if that would suppress the turnout.
Scott Hardin, a finance department spokesman, said the timing of Friday's meeting was simply a matter of scheduling. At the Oct. 17 meeting, commissioners identified two days -- Thursday and Friday -- as potential days they could meet, and the staff decided Friday was the best meeting date after checking meeting space availability.
The commissioners in July issued the first five cultivation licenses after scoring the applications themselves, but they elected to outsource the dispensary application scoring process because of time constraints and the problems that plagued the growing-license process.
Last week, the commission met for the first time with Boston-based Public Consulting Group, the firm that will grade the dispensary applications.
The firm will have a month to grade the 198 proposals to sell medical cannabis once it receives the applications from the state. As of Wednesday, the applications hadn't been sent to Public Consulting Group, Hardin said, adding that the agency expects to begin sending the files Monday.
A Section on 10/25/2018
Print Headline: State medical marijuana panel to give public chance to comment