Pulaski County judge tells parties in marijuana lawsuit to decide how to move case forward

Parties told: Decide next step

Medical marijuana plants are shown during a media tour of the Curaleaf medical cannabis cultivation and processing facility in Ravena, N.Y., in this Aug. 22, 2019 file photo. (AP/Hans Pennink)

Three months after he voided more than two dozen medical-marijuana regulations for being unconstitutional, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chip Welch on Thursday told the parties -- the attorney general, a Pine Bluff-based grower and a Little Rock seller -- to decide on how they want to proceed with the case to get his ruling before the state Supreme Court for a final ruling.

In June, Welch struck down 27 marijuana laws, ruling that the General Assembly had exceeded its authority by improperly altering the constitutional amendment that regulates marijuana. But his decision left undecided some dismissal arguments by the state regulators, the Department of Finance and Administration and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division.

With those issues undecided, state lawyers cannot start the appeal process to bring the issue to the high court to get the final say on the matter. Welch said he convened Thursday's hearing to hear how the sides want to proceed.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jordan Broyles, representing the regulators, told the judge that the state lawyers are still deciding on what to do but their next move is likely to be petitioning him to reconsider his ruling. If Welch turns them down, that ruling will give them the opportunity to start the appeal.

Broyles and the marijuana operators' attorney, Gary Marts of Rogers, with co-counsel Erika McGee, said they favor having Welch decide the outstanding dismissal arguments based on the pleadings they've already submitted. The judge said he'll allow them to submit further written arguments, if they find that necessary, asking that they let him know what they want to do next within a week.

Marts' clients, Good Day Farms LLC of Pine Bluff and Capital City Medicinals LLC of Little Rock, sued state regulators in February 2022 to challenge the validity of a series of marijuana laws passed by lawmakers over a four-year span between 2017 and 2021 to regulate marijuana edibles, advertising and tax collection.

The marijuana operators said lawmakers had illegally circumvented the regulation process by passing laws instead of amending the constitutional amendment that controls medical marijuana. Amendment 98, legalizing marijuana, was passed by popular vote in November 2016.

The operators' argument was that constitutional Amendment 7 limits the Legislature's authority to amend the constitution, requiring that voters must make those decisions.

The judge agreed in his ruling, stating that even giving lawmakers the benefit of the doubt as to the validity of those laws they passed, Amendment 98 clearly states that it can only be changed by popular vote.