Medical marijuana grower appeals loss of license to Arkansas Supreme Court

This Sept. 30, 2016, file photo shows a marijuana bud before harvesting at a rural area near Corvallis, Ore. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)

The owner of a medical marijuana grow operation that lost one of eight cultivation licenses allowed by the state has appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court in a bid to get a new trial to decide the matter.

The cultivation license is the last of eight authorized by the state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2016 to legalize medical marijuana. It was awarded to Fort Smith businessman Bennett "Storm" Nolan, whose River Valley Production LLC of Fort Smith began growing marijuana last year and started selling it in February as River Valley Relief Cultivation.

On Nov. 3, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright ruled that Nolan and company weren't qualified candidates and shouldn't have been licensed, but for marijuana regulators ignoring their own rules, while making up others, to award the certification. He told regulators to take the license and properly award it to a legitimate candidate.

Wright's summary judgment ruling was the result of a January 2021 lawsuit by 2600 Holdings LLC, doing business as Southern Roots Cultivation, that claimed it had met all of the mandated qualifications for the license but had been wrongly passed over in favor of Nolan and River Valley.

In his ruling, Wright ordered that state regulators take the license from Nolan and re-award it to a qualified applicant. Regulators are scheduled to act on the judge's order at a meeting today .

The lawsuit targeted the regulating agencies, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission and Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration of the state Department of Finance and Administration, but Nolan was never a defendant.

He filed to join the case three days before the judge's ruling and a second time Nov. 17, but Wright rejected both intervention motions, saying both times that Nolan had waited too long to get involved. In his second attempt, Nolan petitioned the judge to allow him to join the suit so he could defend the licensing process and his own financial interest in holding the license. He had further called for the judge to start court proceedings over from the beginning because of mistakes and misinterpretations of law, some of which he said could have been avoided if he had been allowed to participate in the litigation.

Nolan's petition had said it's not fair that Nolan has been kept out of the litigation because he has "millions of dollars" at stake, money he's invested in a facility and equipment for a company that employs 75 workers who are now threatened with losing their jobs.

In the motion for a new trial, filed Nov. 17 and denied four days later, Nolan's attorneys attacked Wright's Nov. 3 ruling, saying it was issued with "slighting comments about the absent Nolan, who could not defend himself," and said questions posed in Wright's ruling could have been addressed by adding Nolan to the lawsuit, which the motion said was a requirement of the court's own rules.

In the most recent filing, Nolan's attorneys appealed to the high court, "each and every issue decided adversely to Nolan and River Valley," including the Nov. 2 order denying Nolan's motion to intervene, the Nov. 3 order granting Southern Roots' motion for summary judgment and the Nov. 21 order denying Nolan's motion for a new trial and second motion to intervene.