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State commission issues 1 of 3 pot dispensary licenses; last 2 left vacant

by Rachel Herzog | December 9, 2020 at 6:49 a.m.
FILE - In this June 17, 2015, file photo, marijuana plants grow at LifeLine Labs in Cottage Grove, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission voted unanimously Tuesday evening to issue one of three remaining dispensary licenses in the state while opting not to issue the others.

Amendment 98, the constitutional change approved by Arkansas voters in 2016, allows for a maximum of 40 licensed dispensaries in the state. Prior to Tuesday, the commission had issued 37 of those licenses.

The new license was issued in Zone 4 to 3J Investments Inc. Zone 4 stretches across west-central Arkansas from Conway County to Sebastian County.

When the commission votes on whether to issue licenses, they automatically go to the highest-scoring active applicant in line in each zone.

The commission has established eight geographic zones to ensure that medical-marijuana businesses are spread across the state.

The next applicant in line in Zone 4 was River Valley Relief, but the limited liability corporation was formally dissolved in 2019, prior to being awarded a license, according to the Arkansas secretary of state's website.

Speaking on behalf of 3J Investments, Inc., the next applicant in line after River Valley Relief, attorney Michael Goswami said it was his interpretation of Amendment 98 that the commission could not legally issue a license to River Valley Relief.

"We don't believe they're eligible to receive this license," Goswami said.

Board chairwoman Ronda Henry-Tillman agreed.

"If it's dissolved, we need to move on to the next one on the list and let the courts do the rest," Henry-Tillman said.

The commission's discussion focused on medical-marijuana patient need in the Zone 4 area. There are no dispensaries in any counties neighboring Sebastian County, possibly leading to more cardholders in that area who have to drive or wait in line, or go across state lines to get what they need, commissioner Justin Smith said.

A letter to the commission from Stephen Smith, agent for River Valley Relief, also emphasized patient need and noted that the state paid about $100,000 to go through the application scoring process.

River Valley Relief's efforts were supported by Fort Smith Mayor George McGill; Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken; Rep. Jay Richardson, D-Fort Smith; and other community and business leaders, according to the letter.

Commissioner Travis Story made the motion to declare River Valley Relief ineligible and move on to the next eligible applicant. Henry-Tillman seconded the motion.

Commissioners chose not to issue a license in Zone 6, which covers a swath of west-central Arkansas just south of Zone 4, stretching from Polk County to Saline County.

"If there's going to be an issuance, just looking at the same issues that we just took and based on what the commission just did in issuing Zone 4, I don't know that those same metrics apply to Zone 6," Story said.

The commission also did not issue a license in Zone 8, which covers southwest Arkansas. Story said he did not have any information on the situation.

Tuesday's meeting marked the commission's last opportunity to issue the three remaining dispensary licenses, unless another meeting is scheduled prior to Jan. 9, the day the active dispensary applications formally expire. After that day, the state must begin a new application and review period, according to rules established by the commission.

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