Talk Business & Politics: Fort Smith marijuana cultivation center owner plans to provide low-cost products, create up to 150 jobs

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With the additional cultivation and dispensary license issued by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission June 30, Storm Nolan’s four-year quest to open a cultivation center in Fort Smith is about to happen.

Nolan first applied for cultivation center license four years ago but was not one of the five cultivators chosen.

“At the time, the commission said they would come back after a time to see if the market grew and if there need to be more suppliers and distilleries,” Nolan said.

Early in the process the state estimated there would be about 30,000 medical marijuana patients in the state and the number of distilleries and suppliers originally approved would serve the market. As of July 3, there are 65,000 approved medical marijuana patients in Arkansas, Nolan said.

“It is time to get more (cultivators),” Nolan said.

The state now has eight cultivators approved for business, and three are operational. The two new licenses approved by the commission June 30 are Nolan’s River Valley Relief, which will be located in south Fort Smith, and New Day Cultivation in Garland County. The commission also released four additional dispensary licenses to the following counties: Washington, Fulton, Mississippi, and Pulaski. Natural Root Wellness will be located in Fayetteville; Green Cross Cannabis in Highland; MissCo Cannabis Dispensary in Osceola; and Native Green Wellness in Little Rock.

Nolan said River Valley Relief will employ about 40-50 when it first opens, which he hopes will be within six months. Eventually, he wants to expand the operation to 150 employees. The company estimates the operation will have an $80 million impact on the regional economy.

The center will grow and process medical marijuana and medical marijuana flowers, Nolan said. On the cultivation side, the center will have a grow room that is lit 24-hours a day to get seeds growing as quickly as possible. From there, plants go to the flower room, which will be lit for 12 hours and dark for 12 hours a day. This will allow the plants to continue to grow and flowers to bud. Once flowers are harvested, they will dry before being packaged for sale or moving to the production area of the center. Drying usually takes a couple of weeks, Nolan said.

Storm Nolan (photo from Arkansas Public Media)

In the processing area, product can be made that can go into vape pens, tinctures, edibles (gummies, brownies, cookies, etc.), topical creams, sodas, drink additives and Binaca style oral spray, he said.

“Indoor cultivation centers, which is what this will be, allow for a very high flower, which is needed for these products,” Nolan said.

It will also allow Nolan to be able to produce medical marijuana in as cost-effective way as possible, which in turn will allow him to keep the cost of this product as low as possible. This is important because of Nolan’s compassionate care plan that would allow River Valley Relief to offer some product “hopefully” free to dispensaries, which would then offer it free to those who need it the most and also to offer some product at a greatly discounted price, which again would be offered to low-income patients at a discounted price, he said.

“It’s important to be able to do this, so medical cannabis can be a usable alternative to pharmaceuticals,” Nolan said. “The cost to treat cancer or HIV or PTSD (with medical marijuana) can get very expensive because it is not covered by any insurance. (Patients) not only have the cost of the product, they have to see a doctor (for the certification) and apply through the health department. The costs add up. We want to provide a way that those who need it can get it.”

Nolan’s family understands the importance of access to medical marijuana first hand. His mother, a “super smart, talented, kind-hearted, God-fearing, woman,” became addicted to opioids following a dental procedure and eventually died in a rehabilitation facility in Bentonville, he said. His mom graduated high school two years early, went to college and then law school, and became only the second female attorney in her firm.

After a dental procedure left her with intense jaw pain, she tried “every homeopathic remedy she could just to be able to sleep at night,” Nolan said. Eventually, she got a prescription for an opioid to help with the pain.

“Once you start using opioids, you have to use more and more to get relief,” Nolan said. “She spiraled out of control.”

Had she been able to use medical marijuana, Nolan believes her outcome would have been different.

“The CDC has a cannabis publication that shows after 7 years (of legalized medical marijuana) fairly significant decreases in opioid prescription rates in the states (with legalized medical marijuana),” Nolan said. “That is a very encouraging sign. We really hope the same will happen here, especially in Arkansas that has such a high rate of opioid abuse.”

Nolan’s focus on cultivating medical marijuana is on the medical aspect. He understands some in the state have brought up the idea of legalized recreational use, as in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and elsewhere in the United States, but he believes a big part of that push is because of availability and cost. He said the decision to open more cultivators and dispensaries will help that.

“Typically, when there is more supply (of any product), the cost goes down. Hopefully, we can see that happen,” Nolan said.

5News: Medical marijuana commission approves new licenses for cultivators, dispensaries

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The two remaining cultivation licenses for medical marijuana in Arkansas were released Tuesday, June 30.

ARKANSAS, USA — The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission released additional cultivation and dispensary licenses on Tuesday (June 30). 

In a 3-2 vote, the commission released the two remaining cultivation licenses. The state now has eight cultivators approved for business, but just three are operational. It wasn’t until earlier this month that the sixth applicant received a license following a long legal battle. 

Among the two cultivation licenses approved Tuesday, River Valley Relief will be located in Sebastian County and New Day Cultivation will be located in Garland County. 

After a long and hard fight Storm Nolan with River Valley Relief Cultivation received one of the new licenses and his company will soon be in Fort Smith.

“Because of our family’s story and my mom’s addiction to opioids, an addiction which eventually took her life, we understood just how much Arkansas needs this,” Nolan said.

Nolan first applied for the cultivation center when medical marijuana was first approved. He says he was not chosen but was put in line in case one of the top five choices didn’t work out.

Nolan’s company sent two protest letters to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission after an application for a permit was denied. He and other unsuccessful applicants claim the five companies approved for permits lied about their credentials and stole information from competitors.

Now, after four years of trying, Nolan says they’re ready to get growing.

“In everything we do, we’re going to keep patients in mind and that’s why we plan on having one of the most extensive, compassionate care plans that will provide free and low-cost cannabis to people who can least afford it,” Nolan said.

City Administrator Carl Geffken says this is a huge accomplishment for Fort Smith.

“It is definitely a win-win, it’s helping the people of the City of Fort Smith and the River Valley and the state of Arkansas and it’s also helping the city put people to work and they’re going to be put to work to do and help those that need it most,” Geffken said.

Nolan says they have already started working on their layout plans and hope to open in the next four to six months.

The cultivation center could employ up to 100 people from the River Valley.

To read more of this story, visit our content partner Talk Business & Politics

40/29 News: Medical marijuana cultivation facility set to open in Fort Smith

See the full story at 40/29 News.

FORT SMITH, Ark. —

The owners of River Valley Relief Cultivation hope to be operational in about 4 – 6 months and eventually plan to employ approximately 100 workers.

“With increased competition, that should help lower prices for patients,” said Storm Nolan.

Nolan and his brother plan to open the cultivation facility inside a 25,000 square foot warehouse located on the south side of Fort Smith.

Nolan was an outspoken supporter of medical marijuana before it was approved by voters in 2016, “My mom, who was a bright corporate attorney, just a very loving lady, she ended up getting addicted to opiates after a dental procedure that went wrong. Eventually she ended up with an addiction that took her life,” Nolan said. “If she had access to legal medical cannabis we think that she would probably still be with us today.”

On Tuesday the Medical Marijuana Commission approved issuing 2 of the last 8 licenses in the state for cultivation facilities. Currently, the closest cultivation facility to the River Valley is located in Berryville, outside of Northwest Arkansas.

Nolan told 40/29 he hopes more supply, with increased demand and competition as well as additional dispensaries will contribute to lower prices for medical marijuana patients, “It all has to be transported in very secure means and so every mile you have to drive to a dispensary adds costs. We’ll be able to eliminate a lot of that transportation cost and serve dispensaries from all over the state, but more importantly, from Fort Smith to Little Rock to Fayetteville and Bentonville.”

Fox 16 News: Medical Marijuana Commission votes to extend cultivation and dispensary licenses

Read the full story at Fox 16 News.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — This afternoon the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission held a meeting to discuss adding more marijuana cultivators and dispensaries in the natural state.

By a close 2-2 vote, the Commission approved the last two licenses for cultivators, but the vote didn’t’ come easy there were a lot of discussions and several senators testified giving their opinion.

“Do Arkansans have enough product, enough medical marijuana around the state,” said Scott Hardin from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission decided that there isn’t enough product in Arkansas, so a close vote pushed two cultivation licenses through.

“Ultimately the patient is the winner, because the patient has more access to product,” said Hardin.

Hardin says this has been a conversation for a while now, but before the vote passed, several state leaders stepped up to the mic sharing their opinion, many saying adding cultivators will bring the cost down.

“You can’t take the official source for what our average price is and what the average price was in other states, we have the highest price in the country and some of the poorest people,” said State Senator Alan Clark.

“I have not had one contact or one person reach out to me to say they have had an issue with supply or pricing,” said State Senator Bart Hester.

“The cost is high and if we don’t bring those prices down, we are going to encourage people to go to the black market,” said State Senator Linda Chesterfield.

The two cultivators will be added to Garland County and Sebastian County. In addition to adding cultivators, the commission also voted to add four dispensaries in Washington County, Fulton County, Mississippi County, and Pulaski County.

With the new additions, Hardin says sales would at least double.

“We did 100 million in the first year and I think we will we will do well over 200 million in the second year,” said Hardin.

Times Record: Fort Smith receives medical marijuana cultivating license

Read the full story at the Times Record.

On Tuesday, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission issued the last two cultivator licenses.

Storm Nolan of River Valley Relief Cultivation will receive one of these licenses and his company will be cultivating medical marijuana in Fort Smith. This brings the total number of cultivators in Arkansas to eight.

Several dispensaries cited not being able to access the product as a reason to issue these two licenses. Others stated that the price of medical marijuana was too high and wanted to make it more affordable.

According to Arkansas state Sen. Alan Clark, who was in favor of lowering prices, Arkansas has the highest prices of medical marijuana in the country.

Another state senator, Bart Hester, came forward and said he had not heard of any constituents who have had an issue with price or supply.

One commissioner, Travis Story, said that Arkansas does not have a free market because there is a cap on both cultivators and dispensaries and even said that there was no guarantee it would bring down the price.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: State medical-marijuana panel awards more licenses

Read the full story at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission on Tuesday voted to issue the state’s final two licenses to grow marijuana, in response to a lingering debate over whether the state has enough supply of the drug to serve patients.

Storm Nolan, the owner of River Valley Relief, said the commission’s decision would benefit patients and add as many as 100 jobs in the Fort Smith area.

“That is the real reason why this is good news; we’re going to lower pricing and let patients more easily afford their medicine,” Nolan said.

Storm Nolan, Owner, River Valley Relief Cultivation

Two prospective cultivators, in Fort Smith and Hot Springs, were made eligible to join the six other licensed cultivators in the state by the commission’s decision. However, not all of the six cultivators have provided marijuana to dispensaries.

The commissioners also voted to license four new dispensaries, in Fayetteville, in Little Rock and in Fulton and Mississippi counties.

The commission faced a July 10 deadline to decide whether to increase the number of licensed cultivators to eight, the maximum number allowed under the 2016 voter-approved state constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana.

After the deadline, wait-listed applications for the coveted licenses would have automatically expired.

As of Tuesday, there were nearly 64,000 qualified patients in Arkansas, together spending an average of $520,000 a day on medical marijuana, according to the Department of Finance and Administration. That is a little more than $8 a person a day.

Advocates for medical marijuana, and some dispensary owners, have complained that the supply chain for the drug remains strained more than a year after the drug first hit shelves. On Tuesday, they were joined by several lawmakers in urging the commission to award more licenses as a way to bolster the market.

“We don’t have all of the dispensaries up and running, and only a few of the cultivation centers up and running,” said Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock. “If you don’t bring these costs down, you’re going to send people to the black market.”

Others — most notably, current growers of the drug — have urged the commission to take a more patient approach to awarding new licenses.

Only three cultivators in the state are supplying marijuana to dispensaries, but two more are set to begin harvesting and selling their crops soon, according to Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the commission.

A sixth cultivator was licensed just last month, after the commission determined there was sufficient demand for the drug.

Those asking the commission to halt the awards of additional licenses said the eventual opening of the three already-licensed cultivators would be enough to meet the state’s demands.

“I have not had one contact or person reach out to me to say they had a problem with supply or pricing,” said Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs.

When asked to weigh in on the vote ahead of the commission’s meeting, Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday declined to take sides on what the commission should do.

“To me, the most important criteria is whether there is a need for a greater supply,” Hutchinson said.

The commission ultimately voted 3-2 to award the additional cultivation licenses and 4-1 to award the additional dispensary licenses.

Earlier in the meeting, Commissioner Travis Story also addressed calls for him to recuse from the votes based on legal work he had done in the past for a family that is one of the state’s currently licensed cultivators.

Story rejected those calls, saying he had not billed the family since 2016, before the election in which medical marijuana was legalized. Story said his former law partner, Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, now represented the family.

“Ultimately, all work stopped once it became known that they were trying to enter into the Arkansas medical marijuana community,” Story said.

Story later voted against both motions to award the additional licenses.

The two applicants next in line on the wait list for a cultivator’s license are River Valley Relief of Fort Smith and New Day Cultivation of Hot Springs, Hardin said.

Storm Nolan, the owner of River Valley Relief, said the commission’s decision would benefit patients and add as many as 100 jobs in the Fort Smith area.

“That is the real reason why this is good news; we’re going to lower pricing and let patients more easily afford their medicine,” Nolan said.

New Day Cultivation, through a statement released by consultant Bailey Moll, also praised the decision.

“We started this journey, more than three years ago, because we wanted to offer ailing Arkansans an additional medical option. Now, we will focus our energy on fulfilling our promises to the Commission and to fellow Arkansans,” the statement read.

The commission agreed to award new dispensary licenses in four of the eight zones carved out by the commission earlier in the bidding process. The commissioners awarded the additional licenses for areas where they said there is a current need based on the number of patients and driving distances.

The dispensaries next on the wait list in those zones are Natural Root Wellness in Fayetteville, Green Cross Cannabis in Fulton County, MissCo Cannabis Dispensary in Mississippi County and Native Green Wellness in Little Rock.

The commission has three remaining dispensary licenses that it can choose to award, in zones covering the south and western regions of the state. Hardin said the commission has until January before applications for those remaining licenses expire.

Applicants that were extended licenses by the commission on Tuesday must each still pay a license fee and post a required bond before becoming formally licensed, Hardin said.

Talk Business: Medical marijuana commission approves new licenses for cultivators, dispensaries

Read the full story at Talk Business & Politics.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission released additional cultivation and dispensary licenses on Tuesday (June 30).

In a 3-2 vote, the commission released the two remaining cultivation licenses. The state now has eight cultivators approved for business, but just three are operational. It wasn’t until earlier this month that the sixth applicant received a license following a long legal battle.

Among the two cultivation licenses approved Tuesday, River Valley Relief will be located in Sebastian County and New Day Cultivation will be located in Garland County.

Commissioners Kevin Russell and Travis Story voted against releasing the cultivation licenses after hearing from at least one lawmaker that there wasn’t an issue with supply.

Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, attended the meeting via conference call, while the following lawmakers attended in person: Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, and Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale.

Hester said he had not heard from any medical marijuana users that there was an issue with supply and pricing. However, Sample, Chesterfield, and Clark said they knew of patients struggling to afford the medicine as well as dispensary owners who are having issues with supply.

In another motion that passed on a 4-1 vote, the commission released four additional dispensary licenses to the following counties: Washington, Fulton, Mississippi, and Pulaski.

A commission spokesperson confirmed that the following dispensaries will be located within the counties:

  • Natural Root Wellness in Fayetteville
  • Green Cross Cannabis in Highland
  • MissCo Cannabis Dispensary in Osceola
  • Native Green Wellness in Little Rock

Applicants should expect intent letters for awarding of licenses to be mailed by the end of the week. There are three remaining dispensary licenses available, but those applications do not expire until January 2021.

Arkansas has three cultivation facilities and 22 dispensaries in operation as of June 30, 2020.

According to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, Arkansans have spent more than $100 million on nearly 16,000 pounds of medical marijuana since the first dispensary opened in May 2019.

June 2020 Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll found that 67.5% of Arkansans support medical marijuana compared to 20.5% who oppose. That level of support far exceeds the 53% of voters who approved the measure in November 2016.

Among voters in the survey who support medical marijuana, 23.5% approved of increasing the number of cultivators and dispensaries, 19% approved legalizing recreational marijuana, and 46.5% approved of both.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: No consensus reached on cannabis-grower permits

Read the full story at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

LITTLE ROCK — Lawmakers on Tuesday questioned whether there’s a shortage of medical marijuana in Arkansas ahead of a looming deadline to award two outstanding cultivation licenses.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission has until July 10 to decide whether to expand the number of licensed marijuana cultivators from six to eight — the maximum number allowed under the constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, which voters approved in 2016.

If no additional licenses are awarded before the deadline, any applicants on a waiting list for a license will be removed until the commission decides to start the bidding process over from scratch.

The Medical Marijuana Commission has one final meeting scheduled Tuesday before the deadline.

After nearly three hours of debate however, lawmakers on the Legislative Council’s state agencies and governmental affairs committee failed to reach a resolution as to what they believe the commission should do.

The chairman of the committee, Sen. Ronald Caldwell, R-Wynne, said it hasn’t been determined whether lawmakers will meet again before the deadline to discuss the issue.

Several committee members expressed frustration at the commission, which they said kept insufficient track of data to determine whether the crops from the current licensees were enough to sustain the state’s more than 60,000 patients.

Five cultivators have been licensed, but only three are currently selling cannabis to dispensaries. A sixth was approved for a license last week after the commission determined there was sufficient need.

“You either have enough or you don’t,” said Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock. “If you have enough, then what’s that based on?”

The two applicants who are next in line to receive licenses to grow the drug also testified Tuesday and leveled accusations against Commissioner Travis Story, who they said failed to recuse himself from decisions that benefited one of the successful applicants, Osage Creek Cultivation, after doing legal work for the company’s owners.

Story couldn’t be reached for comment on Tuesday. His former law partner, Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, sits on the committee however, and defended Story, saying the family that owns Osage Creek was primarily his clients, not Story’s.

Ballinger said those on the wait list for a cultivation license were making allegations of corruption as part of a last-ditch effort to get the commission to extend the final two licenses.

“When you start dragging my name, and my friend’s name in the dirt… you guys all look like you are willing to do anything in order to try and get where you’re at, where you want to be,” Ballinger said.

Later in the hearing, a motion was made by the Senate side of the committee to make a public recommendation that the commission award the remaining licenses. By that point however, only five Senate members of the committee remained.

Ballinger voted against the motion, ensuring it would fail despite three affirmative votes (the motion needed five votes to pass).

Cannabis Dispensary: Arkansas Regulators Debate Whether to Expand Number of Licensed Medical Cannabis Cultivators

Read the full story at Cannabis Dispensary.

Arkansas regulators are considering whether to expand the number of licensed medical cannabis cultivators in the state from six to eight, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette report.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is up against a July 10 deadline to make a decision, the news outlet reported, and lawmakers took up the issue June 23 to discuss whether there is a shortage of medical cannabis in the state, although no decision was reached.

Regulators can issue a maximum of eight cultivation licenses under the voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized medical cannabis in 2016.

The Medical Marijuana Commission has one more meeting scheduled before the deadline, and if no additional licenses are awarded, any applicants on the waiting list for a license will be removed and the commission will have to start the bidding process over from scratch, should it decide in the future that more cultivators are needed, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

TB&P: Poll: Support grows for medical marijuana expansion

Read the full story at Talk Business & Politics.

Despite a slow rollout of medical cannabis in Arkansas, public support for the industry is growing.

A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll of likely statewide voters shows the issue has gained momentum since its passage with 53% support in November 2016. In a survey conducted June 9-10, 2020, voters voiced a double-digit increase in approval.

Q: Do you support or oppose the use of medical marijuana in Arkansas?

67.5% Support
20.5% Oppose
12% Unsure

Arkansas lawmakers and regulators were slow to develop and implement the rules for issuing cultivation and dispensary licenses, and the process was hampered with a series of legal actions. Eventually, licenses were issued and over the past year more distribution outlets have opened.

As of June 3, the state of Arkansas reported that $86.38 million in medical marijuana sales have taken place cumulatively. At least 40% of first year medical marijuana sales occurred since March 1, according to state officials.

“We wanted to test attitudes on whether or not the legalization of medical cannabis is gaining or losing support. It appears that more Arkansans are supportive of the issue now that it is in the marketplace,” said Roby Brock, Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief. “We also wanted to see if there is support for making medical marijuana more available through the issuance of expanded licenses and are voters ready to legalize recreational marijuana.”

The latest survey of 869 statewide likely voters was taken on Tuesday, June 9 and Wednesday, June 10 and has a margin of error of +/-3.3%. The following question tested potential expansion of marijuana in Arkansas. It was only asked of the 67.5% who supported medical marijuana.

Q: Recently, there have been significant increases in both the amount of medical marijuana sold in Arkansas and the number of medical marijuana patients with qualifying conditions. Knowing this, would you support:

23.5% Increasing the number of licensed medical marijuana cultivation and dispensaries
19% Legalizing recreational marijuana in Arkansas
46.5% Both
11% Unsure

“It would appear there is support for increasing licenses for medical marijuana,” Brock said. “Also, among the two-thirds of those supporting medical marijuana, a majority support recreational marijuana, which could be on the November ballot.”