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.”

Times Record: Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission should release additional approved licenses

Read the full story at the Times Record.

With only five medical marijuana cultivation facilities in Arkansas operating — two of which have still not rolled out the product — the people who have legal cards to use cannabis as a medicine for a variety of ailments are paying double the price as those in our neighboring state of Oklahoma.

In our report Thursday to highlight the wide gap between prices for medical marijuana in Arkansas and Oklahoma, we showed how simple economics is at play in the pricing.

The supply is higher in Oklahoma because they have more cultivation facilities. There are almost more legal cultivation sites in the small town of Poteau just across the border in LeFlore County than the entire state of Arkansas. Although a majority of the 33 licensed dispensaries in Arkansas are allowed to grow 50 plants, it does not make up for the difference.

Oddly enough, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is authorized to add seven more dispensary licenses and three more cultivation facility licenses that would allow people to get to work and help bring down prices in Arkansas. Economics again plays into this. One of the licenses approved for cultivation is in Fort Smith.

Storm Nolan of River Valley Relief Cultivation, said the release of their license from the MMC would mean up to 50 jobs for the city, with a roughly $50 million economic impact. It would also help bring down the prices in Arkansas.

It would not be too surprising to hear that the higher prices in Arkansas have sent many medical marijuana card holders back to the black market for their medicine of choice. It was certainly not surprising to hear from a former Oklahoma dispensary worker that he knows firsthand that many Arkansans have been venturing across the state line to pick up green meds because the prices are much cheaper.

A temporary license for Oklahoma allows an individual with a medical license from another state to legally buy and use medical marijuana in Oklahoma. A license there will cost the patient $100 and be valid for 30 days. A temporary card for Arkansas is only $50, but the price for cannabis is higher in Arkansas by double in comparison to Oklahoma. The price difference is made up with about 5 grams of cannabis.

If someone were to purchase a gram of medical cannabis in Arkansas they would be paying double the amount than they would if they were in Oklahoma. A gram in Oklahoma costs about $10 depending on the quality, but a gram of that same quality would be $20 in Arkansas.

We hope the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is taking this into consideration and will soon release the remaining licenses to those who were approved. The voters authorized them to do it. And it is the smart thing to do, both economically and morally.

Times Record: New medical marijuana commissioners to attend meeting

Read the full story at the Times Record.

Two new Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission members will be at the group’s meeting today to choose the state’s first 32 dispensaries from about 200 applications.

Justin Smith, a pediatric nurse at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, was appointed to the commission Monday. He replaces James Miller of Bryant, former chief of staff for the Arkansas Senate. Miller resigned last month.

Kevin Russell, a captain with the Benton Police Department, was appointed to the Medical Marijuana Commission in mid-December to replace Dr. Carlos Roman, a Little Rock pain doctor. Both four-year-term appointments were made by Jonathan Dismang, outgoing state Senate President Pro Tempore.

A dispensary application for River Valley Relief, a Fort Smith business, is among those 198 applications being reviewed by Public Consulting Group of Boston.

River Valley Relief, which was tied for sixth among the first cultivation applicants, opted for a “non-growing dispensary.” Initial results of dispensary scores released by the Arkansas’ Alcoholic Beverage Control Division on Dec. 20 show River Valley Relief with a score of 295.78. There were many scores in the mid-300s.

Storm Nolan of River Valley Relief said medical marijuana commissioners may not give a penalty for a dispensary opting not to grow, compared to one that did. But because of the “non-growing dispensary” application for the businesses, River Valley Releif received “zeros” from three Public Consulting Group reviewers in the section of the application pertaining to cannabis cultivation.

“I’m not sure how the commissioners are going to handle this issue or if they will address it at all,” Nolan noted in a recent email.

Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration spokesperson Scott Hardin stressed the initial dispensary scores were “in no way final and were subject to change.” The DFA spokesperson stated Dec. 20 the scores were released because of numerous Arkansas Freedom of Information Act requests.

In an email Tuesday, Hardin noted Wednesday’s (Jan. 9) meeting will be an opportunity for representatives of Public Consulting Group to “thoroughly explain the process by which 198 dispensary applications were reviewed and scored.” Commissioners will be able to ask questions after the presentation, and “have the option of voting to approve PCG’s scores,” Hardin wrote. Whether this will take place is yet to be determined, he added.

40/29 News: Complaints submitted over Arkansas medical marijuana applications

Read and watch the full story at 40/29 News.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control will investigate claims made against companies picked to grow medical marijuana in Arkansas.

14 complaints against those companies were submitted to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission earlier this year. The protest letters were submitted by companies that were not selected to grow the medical marijuana.

The letters include complaints that accuse companies of corruption, that the process was inconsistent, and that the facilities chosen didn’t follow the rules set for where they could be located.

Scott Hardin, a spokesperson with the Department of Finance, said that only eight of the complaints would be investigated. 

Hardin said that officials with Alcoholic Beverage Control will not review six of the protest letters that dealt with the review and scoring of cultivation facility applications. 

The Alcoholic Beverage Control in Arkansas can only investigate the claims that companies provided false statements during the application process.

Storm Nolan, an applicant from Fort Smith whose cultivation facility, “River Valley Relief,” is a runner-up on the list. At last month’s commission meeting, Nolan told 40/29 News that he feels the commissioners haven’t been “forthcoming” when discussing their response to the protest letters.

He and his brother have also applied for a dispensary license in Fort Smith. 

The vote to make medical marijuana legal in Arkansas passed in November 2016. The state expects it to be made available for the first time in March 2019.

The commission is scheduled to meet on Wednesday Nov. 28 in Little Rock on Wednesday. 

Owners with each of the five selected cultivation facilities have been asked to attend and to provide an update to the commission on their progress.

5 News: ‘Still A Chance’ For Fort Smith Medical Marijuana Cultivation Facility Says Applicant

Read the full article at 5 News Online.

FORT SMITH (KFSM) — Storm Nolan, a local proponent of medical marijuana in Arkansas, says there’s still a chance for Fort Smith to receive a cultivation facility even after his company’s permit was denied.

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

If Fort Smith will actually have a cultivation facility depends on the results of the investigation into those companies.

“I run into people every week that talk about, you know, I’ve got cancer, or I’m living through chronic migraines. A lot of people would much rather have, or treat their ailments, with cannabis than having a doctor prescribe prescription opiates, and trying to use opiates to manage chronic pain, which is not what they were intended for,” Nolan told 5NEWS.

Currently, 19 applicants are on route to be considered for the dispensaries in Arkansas. The Medical Marijuana Commission should have the scoring of those applications done between December 7th and 14th, and will likely choose where the dispensaries will go on the 19, according to a meeting held by the commission in November.

Nolan and his brother, Kane Whitt, applied for a dispensary license in South Fort Smith, just off Zero Street and Old Greenwood Road.

It has been two years since medical marijuana was passed by voters in Arkansas. The long process has become a financial strain for some of the applicants.

Oklahoma voters approved the issue in 2018, and already have dispensaries open in the state. Arkansas residents will not be able to get medical marijuana from Oklahoma, without being a registered patient in the state. Arkansas law will allow Oklahoma citizens to get medical marijuana in the Natural State, so long as they have a certified condition meeting the requirements by Arkansas law.

Nolan says a dispensary in Fort Smith could provide up to 30 jobs, as well as employment in related fields such as security and transportation. He also believes a dispensary could help expand the industry sector in Fort Smith.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Arkansas marijuana firms violated rules, say losing bidders

Read the full story at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

As the first companies prepare to grow medical marijuana in Arkansas, a string of investigations into the claims those companies made in their applications looms over the state’s burgeoning cannabis program.

Complaints submitted to the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement Division by unsuccessful applicants accuse the five permitted growing companies of lying about their groups’ credentials, stealing information from competing applicants and locating growing facilities too close to a school, among other things.

The complaints, submitted through protest letters to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, were last-ditch efforts by companies that applied unsuccessfully for one of the state’s first lucrative cannabis-cultivating permits. Many of those unsuccessful companies received unwelcome news earlier this month tent and flawed, to allegations of outright corruption.

Those complaints, though, won’t be investigated by the Alcoholic Beverage Control staff because the scoring process was independent and subjective, Hamlet said.

“The scope of ABC’s authority for review of the medical marijuana application from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement director, Boyce Hamlet.

Several of the 14 protests submitted to the commission make complaints about the process commissioners used to score the more than 80 applications for cultivation licenses, ranging from claims that the process was inconsisprocess will be limited to determining if cultivation licensees or their agents provided false material statements to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission during the application process,” Hamlet wrote in the letter.

Several complaints of that nature are pending. Additionally, several protest letters claim that three of the five licensees didn’t follow the constitutional and regulatory requirements for the location of their facilities. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement Division could, for example, take action against a grower locating too close to a church, school or day care.

The results of the investigations into those matters are eagerly awaited by unsuccessful applicants hoping to get a growing license if one becomes available. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement Division has the authority to fine a medical marijuana growing company and suspend or revoke its license.

Most of the protest letters were filed in July shortly after the licenses were formally awarded.

[MEDICAL MARIJUANA: More coverage from the Democrat-Gazette]

“We anticipate decisions will be made on several protests in the coming weeks,” said Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees the Medical Marijuana Commission and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement Division.

Arkansas voted to legalize medical marijuana in November 2016, but legal and regulatory challenges have delayed the controversial drug’s implementation. The Finance Department expects the drug to be available by the end of March when the first dispensary opens.

Applications for dispensary permits are being graded by Boston-based Public Consulting Group, which expects to complete its review in early December.

The five cultivation companies are in the early stages of constructing their facilities, and the Medical Marijuana Commission has asked representatives from those five groups to provide progress updates at a meeting Wednesday.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control investigation results are expected to begin trickling in at some point after that meeting.

An example of complaints is that Delta Medical Cannabis Co. of Newport and Natural State Medicinals Cultivation of Jefferson County falsely represented the backgrounds of individuals associated with each company.

An attorney for River Valley Relief Cultivation, which missed winning a license by one spot, claimed in a letter that Delta Medical Cannabis Co. provided false information about Jeff Botkin, one of the group’s “medical marijuana experts.”

Botkin didn’t hold the licenses required in Colorado to own and operate a marijuana business, as Delta Medical Cannabis Co.’s application said, according to the letter. Attached to River Valley Relief’s letter were records showing that Botkin’s Colorado business licenses had expired or been voluntarily surrendered in April 2016.

A spokesman for the Colorado Department of Revenue said in a March email to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazettethat Botkin had been issued new licenses on the same day that River Valley Relief’s letter was sent to the commission.

Don Parker, an owner and spokesman for Delta Medical Cannabis Co., said Tuesday that the group hadn’t been contacted by investigators about the protest letters.

“Delta Medical categorically denies that it made any false statements in its application,” Parker said.

River Valley Relief also questioned information provided by Natural State Medicinals Cultivation about one of its owners, Robert DeBin. River Valley Relief stated in its letter that DeBin was registered to vote in Colorado in 2016 and held a medical marijuana occupational license in Colorado, yet he claimed in his Arkansas application to have lived here since 2009.

DeBin hasn’t responded to requests for comments on the matter.

Bold Team, the Cotton Plant company licensed to grow medical marijuana, has been accused of omitting information about the land where it’s planning to construct its growing facility.

Delta Medical Cannabis and Natural State Wellness Enterprises of Newport plan to locate their facilities adjacent to Arkansas State University-Newport. Several unsuccessful applicants have argued that ASU-Newport should be considered a school, and therefore, it must be at least 3,000 feet away from any growing facility.

Both of the licensed cultivation companies dispute that interpretation of the law; a state lawmaker has asked Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to opine on the matter.

Times Record: Arkansas cannabis dispensary licenses expected in December

Arkansans who have been approved for medical marijuana cards may be able to finally obtain cannabis for the first time in the state’s history within the first few months of 2019 after dispensary applications are approved in December.

The Arkansas Department of Health has approved 6,308 medical marijuana card applications as of Friday for a variety of conditions that include cancer, AIDS/HIV, severe arthritis, cancer and anxiety.

The cards, which will be valid for one-year at a time, will be issued when the product is legally available, an ADH spokesperson noted. While a physician will certify a patient’s qualifying condition, a dispensary is required to have a pharmacist consultant to make sure the patient receives the correct strain and dosage, as well as delivery method.

The Boston-based firm Public Consulting Group began grading the 198 dispensary applications this week.

“With 32 dispensaries soon to be licensed, it is simply a matter of how quickly they can access the product (within the Medical Marijuana Commission’s rules and regulations) and open their doors for business,” Scott Hardin, spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, wrote in an email Tuesday. “The industry won’t be fully operational until the cultivators launch production.”

While there are still some legal hangups with some of the five cultivation licenses issued this year, Hardin noted many of the dispensary licenses applied to operate as a “grow dispensary” and would be allowed to grow up to 50 cannabis plants onsite. This includes the option of bringing in mature plants.

“A number of the 32 dispensaries that are licensed will likely be ‘grow’ dispensaries,” Hardin wrote. “We we won’t know for certain how many until licenses are awarded in early December. We don’t anticipate all cultivators and 32 dispensaries will be open by the first quarter of 2019, but it is likely that a limited number of dispensaries may open their doors for business in that time frame.”

Each of the state’s eight zones will receive a total of four dispensary licenses.

“Issuing licenses by zone will ensure Arkansans do not have to drive hours to access a dispensary,” Hardin added.

Fort Smith and Van Buren are in Zone 4. There are eight dispensary applications out of Fort Smith and two in Van Buren. Others for Zone 4 are located in Mountainburg, Russellville, London, Blufton, Clarksville, Hattieville, Lamar and Pottsville.

There are just two dispensary applications for Zone 6, the other west central Arkansas zone. Both of those dispensary applications are out of Mena. The four northwest Arkansas counties in Zone 1 have 29 dispensary applications. Most of them, 13, are from Fayetteville.

Storm Nolan, one of the principles for River Valley Relief Cultivation in Fort Smith, said he expects to see more medical cannabis card applications once the product is legally available in the state. River Valley Relief applied for a dispensary license, but it was not a “grow” dispensary license. River Valley Relief tied for sixth place with New Day Cultivation in Garland County for one of the first five cultivation licenses.