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Throw out pot license challenge, state says

by John Lynch | February 3, 2021 at 4:06 a.m.

LITTLE ROCK -- A lawsuit claiming Arkansas medical marijuana regulators wrongfully awarded a Fort Smith sellers license in December is baseless and should be thrown out of court, state lawyers argue in the latest round of court filings.

Hotel developers Bennett "Storm" Nolan, 40, and Oliver Kane Whitt, 36, owners of River Valley Sales Inc, which does business as River Valley Relief Dispensary in Fort Smith, are challenging the legality of the state Medical Marijuana Commission's decision to award a license to 3J Investments and its operator, Jeffrey Fitch of Hindsville, as the second medical-marijuana seller in the Fort Smith area.

Commissioners were on the verge of awarding the dispensary license to Nolan but instead chose Fitch and 3J at their December meeting, despite findings that River Valley was more qualified, according to the lawsuit. Commissioners went with 3J after being told that Nolan had dissolved the River Valley company.

Nolan and Whitt sued a week later, complaining that commissioners acted without giving their lawyers a chance to explain what was going on with the company. Their suit before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright also disputes River Valley was ever dissolved and further complains that commissioners misapplied their own licensing rules by denying Nolan, who is a former president of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association.

Nolan and Whitt are asking the judge to force the marijuana regulators, which include the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration and the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration, to give the dispensary license to Nolan.

On Monday, the state agencies' lawyer urged the judge to dismiss the lawsuit on sovereign-immunity grounds because authorities have done nothing wrong.

The lawyer, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Merritt, also argued that the Arkansas Supreme Court has already ruled that circuit courts do not have the authority to overturn these types of administrative decisions by a state agency, describing the litigation as an effort to "micromanage" the licensing process.

Further, Fitch and 3J have already received the license so it's too late for the court to act and there is no procedure in place to take the license away from them then give it to someone else, Merritt states in her pleading.

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