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story.lead_photo.caption Lorna Knox of Cabot speaks Friday to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission about her wish that the drug would soon be available for patients. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

Nearly two years after Arkansans voted to legalize medical marijuana -- but with no dispensaries open to date -- the commission overseeing licensing heard from patients Friday who asked that the drug be made available as soon as possible.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission took public comments for a little more than an hour Friday in a lecture hall at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's William H. Bowen School of Law. The commission expected large crowds, but about 50 people showed up. Of those, about half spoke.

"Please make opening the dispensaries a priority in your lives for the patients and the families of patients," said Lorna Knox, an Arkansan who said she spent several years as a medical-marijuana patient in California before returning to Cabot in 2016.

"I've gone in debt going back on meds, I can't do it anymore," Knox said. "I can't do without it."

Like Knox, several of the people who spoke at the meeting identified themselves as potential consumers of medical marijuana.

More than 6,300 people have been certified as patients or caregivers by the Department of Health as of Friday.

"Please expedite this process," said Gerrit Gorter of Little Rock. "I'm 66 years old, I'm a cancer survivor, I need this stuff."

About 50 people turned up for a session at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock during which comments were offered to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission about gaining access to the drug.
About 50 people turned up for a session at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock during which comments were offered to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission about gaining access to the drug.

Treige Hussey, also of Little Rock, sat a few rows behind Gorter. When the commissioners reached the end of the list of names on a sign-up sheet, Hussey indicated that she wanted to share her perspective on the situation.

"Just waiting and waiting," she said. "I've went to doctors to get help and I just can't seem to get the help that I need."

Officials estimate the drug will be available during the first three months of 2019.

The commission was established after voters passed Amendment 98 to the state constitution in November 2016. The commission's purpose was to evaluate and award the licenses for the cultivators and dispensaries that would get the new industry up and running, but that process so far has been hindered by delays and lawsuits over the commission's scoring and purported conflicts of interest.

Others speaking Friday were unsuccessful applicants for one of the state's five coveted cultivation licenses. They asked if the commission would agree to take a second look. Some simply expressed frustration with the process.

"We felt that the application process was going to be fair. There's been so many things to make us feel that it is not," said Loretta Lever, who identified herself as a member of a cultivator group.

Storm Nolan, president of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association, challenged the commissioners to say out loud during the meeting whether they had read any of around 15 formal complaints sent to them since the scoring of the cultivation centers was completed in February.

The rules released before the meeting, however, said none of the commissioners would respond directly to questions Friday. None of the commissioners answered Nolan. Commissioners meet Nov. 13 and will respond then.

Other speakers said they had submitted complaints to the commission about the definitions the commissioners had used to consider minority status in applicants -- definitions that were based on state law -- by including disabled veterans in that group.

Leticia Sanders, who ran in the Democratic primary for governor this spring, showed up to speak.

Sanders expressed concerns that medical-marijuana patients would lose their right to purchase firearms, and asked the commission to do something about it. (Federal law, as decided upon by Congress, is what prohibits medical-marijuana patients from purchasing guns from federally licensed dealers.)

Commissioner Travis Story said afterward that he took the comments "to heart," and that the commission was moving "as fast as we can" to get through the final process of awarding dispensary licenses.

The commissioners graded the cultivation licenses themselves, but decided to hire outside help to recommend which companies should receive dispensary licenses. Medical marijuana sold in state will have to be grown and processed here under the law.

The other three commissioners at the meeting declined to speak to reporters afterward.

One commissioner, Dr. Carlos Roman, did not attend the public comment period Friday. He also missed the last meeting.

Earlier this month, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on a video of a conversation between an applicant and Roman. The video had fueled bribery accusations and led to an FBI investigation. Both the applicant and Roman denied wrongdoing.

A spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration, which provides administrative support to the commission, said Roman never notified anyone in the agency that he wasn't planning to attend Friday.

Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the finance department, said the agency over the weekend would be sending 198 applications for a dispensary license to the Public Consulting Group of Boston, which will grade the applications.

That process will start Monday, Hardin said, allowing for the winners to be announced in late November or early December.

If all goes according to plan, Hardin said medical marijuana will be available for sale to patients in the first quarter of 2019.

"We certainly understand the frustrations, but we're getting close," Hardin said.

A Section on 10/27/2018

Print Headline: Arkansas patients beg panel to speed up cannabis availability

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Comments

  • JMort69
    October 27, 2018 at 8:39 a.m.

    Given the short time to prepare for this meeting, is it any wonder that only a few people attended. And, like Mr. Nolan, it was announced that these royal emperors would not lower themselves to respond to any questions. Mr. Nolan was right to try to force this joke of a commission to answer his questions. It is so obvious that this was a rigged system, from the start. Story awarded a legal client a license, Roman tried to award one to a business associate, a confessed federal criminal and soon to be federal prisoner, Henry Wilkins, IV's son, Henry Wilkins, V got two, count um, two grow licenses. The entire process has been just another sham perpetrated by our state legislators and their hand-picked cronies. This is just another example of why we need to sweep the trash out of our state house. This started with those crooks. Meanwhile, we are still waiting.

  • JPRoland
    October 27, 2018 at 10:18 a.m.

    I am a patient and so was my son. I have Parkinson's disease and my son had severe Epilepsy. My amazing son is the one who needed medical marijuana to calm his seizures. He had as many as 85 seizures a day. He was disappointed and mad about autocrat Laura Rutledge blocking the initial voting process a zillion times and now all of the good old boy cronyism and shenanigans that have delayed patients obtaining it indefinitely. My son and I both realized it was possibly never really going to happen in Arkansas and it still may never. My wife and I had been considering moving but hated to leave all of our Little Rock friends. We felt it might be best for our sweet boy. Unfortunately, our son passed away during a bad seizure episode while we were eating dinner in our home ten months ago on January 5, so now it is a moot point. We are missing our little boy so much that we can hardly breathe. Now I really don't care about whether I can obtain cannabis anymore even though my doctor thinks it will calm my shaking, decrease my nausea, and increase my appetite. I am okay with it not being available for me. If my little boy could deal with seizures, nausea, and weight loss from age 7 to age 24, I can make it from age 63 to death. I'll probably fall or choke to death in the next ten years anyway, so I won't be suffering long and they'll probably give me those really strong opioid drugs that are so addictive and readily available. They're a lot stronger than cannabis anyway and they'll numb me up so much that I won't feel a thing and won't care. I realize you all are probably tired of hearing me comment and complain everytime the paper brings up the delay in getting this medicine to patients despite the fact that the citizens of this state voted FOR medical marijuana. I promise I am not going to comment on the shameful ineptitude, greed, and apathy displayed by our state government regarding cannabis anymore. There is one thing I would like to request from our government officials who are responsible for this hurtful delay. Since you can't or won't make legal medical cannabis available to us patients, would you please say a little prayer for us when you attend your church tomorrow morning? Thank you. Good health and best wishes to you all especially peace and blessings to my fellow patients. Hang in there.

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    October 27, 2018 at 11:09 a.m.

    Up sounded like you should have moved to colorado long before now. you insinuate that missing your little rock friends was more important than your son's life. Arkansas is slow at everything it does. doesn't matter which political party holds the reins. in the year 2018 I still cannot join a wine club and have wine shipped to my home even though i live in a wet county. I too have been approved for medical marijuana but know that I will probably need to stay on opiods until the state can hire people to get the ball rolling. looking on the bright side of living in a SLOW state we don't have a lot of unruly mobs burning down their own towns or terrorists blowing up our buildings and schools.

  • condoleezza
    October 27, 2018 at 11:31 a.m.

    Oboxer. You sound cruel and complacent.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    October 27, 2018 at 11:45 a.m.

    They (state officals) havent made half the amount of money they want before release.

    You are a slave. You should shut up before you get shot. You dont know Arkansas very well.

  • MaxCady
    October 27, 2018 at 11:48 a.m.

    The Kommission is a JOKE!! This whole process has been a JOKE!! The state of Arkansas is a JOKE!!

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    October 27, 2018 at 12:35 p.m.

    Thomas Sowell

    @ThomasSowell
    31m31 minutes ago

    "Why anyone would expect better decisions to be made by third parties who pay no price for being wrong is one of the mysteries of our time."

  • dunk7474
    October 27, 2018 at 12:57 p.m.

    Do we have a totally incompetent governor or what?? All he can do is smile and watch his family get arrested.

  • Razorback86
    October 27, 2018 at 12:59 p.m.

    It’s weird how they can ask the people if they want this or not, the citizens of Arkansas say yes and our over reaching Arkansas Government stops this from helping the sick but yet Arkansas Governor Asa can make his own law to stop helping or reducing help of the poor by taking food and healthcare yet the healthcare laws he did took over took very little time to do but yet this has been over two years. I myself don’t believe in this drug unless it helps the sick which it does so stop fighting the people and help them and remember you work for us it’s our tax dollars that pay your large enhanced salary. The people have spoken give them the healthcare and medication they need Governor. My opinion in this matter. Stop on the side of road in that fancy tax dollar paid for SUV’s that usually travel two or three at a time on tax dollar fuel and get this taken care of before traveling to another country paid for by Arkansas tax payers.
    Jared Henderson would help you if he gets the chance he will help all people and that includes us the poor not just lawyers and rich in my opinion!

  • condoleezza
    October 27, 2018 at 2:19 p.m.

    Who is UABAREFOOT talking to?!

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