What's that smell? Is it medical marijuana? Or just burned up applicants? | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What's that smell? Is it medical marijuana? Or just burned up applicants?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2018 at 8:03 AM

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Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin mentioned to me yesterday that two of the five top scorers for medical marijuana cultivation permits — Natural State Medicinals, which plans a facility in Jefferson County, and the Bold Team, which plans to build in Cotton Plant, had submitted the money necessary for ratification of their permits. UPDATE: Delta Medical Cannabis also paid Tuesday afternoon. UPDATE II: Osage Creek got its money in today.

They have paid the $100,000 licensing fee and posted a $500,000 performance bond. Natural State Wellness has  until the end of the week to do the same. It is expected to comply.

Hardin also told me there'd been inquiries about whether the Commission might award more cultivation licenses — the law allows up to eight. Hardin said: "The Commission’s plan from the beginning has been to issue five licenses and this remains the plan. Any reports of additional cultivation licenses are inaccurate."

The Medical Marijuana Commission will meet March 14 to formalize the awards. The Commission meanwhile has begun scoring applications for the 32 dispensary permits. Predictions range from the end of the year to early 2019 on when medical marijuana may be available for sale to those eligible.

In the meanwhile ...... I can report noise is growing from cultivation applicants unhappy about the outcome. That's, to coin a word, natural.

Among the questions: Did all applicants satisfy the requirement that they had no tax deficiencies with the state? Did the Commission review only DFA records or did it also check for franchise fee permits with the secretary of state? Were rules on distances from schools and the like carefully observed?

Questions linger too, for appearances if no other reason, about a divergence in scoring by one commissioner, Dr. Carlos Roman. He gave a 98 score to Natural State Medicinals, but no score higher than 68 for the others in the top five applicants.  His highest score among more than 80 applicants was 77.5. The other four commissioners produced no score lower than 87 for the top six scores by the five applicants. He hasn't been available for comment. Perhaps Natural State was simply that good and the others that deficient in his view. Its principals include doctors and people associated with former ownership and leadership of the USA Drug chain, so they can point to medical expertise.

The losers are naturally sour about it all. The application process was expensive. Some have already lined up buildings. Should any of the top five falter, others could step up.

Suspicions linger, too, that commissioners must have had some idea about people associated with at least some of the applications, through organizer names if no other reason. I know that the Arkansas Times was in receipt weeks before the meeting of the names of people associated with both cultivation and dispensary permits, some with at least casual associations with board members. If the applications were cleaned of names before being submitted to commissioners, many of the participants were talking freely about it. Word gets around in this small, friendly state.

But, as a legal question, does it matter? The Commission's procedures are outlined by state law. For now, the recent experience in circuit court has been that a new state Supreme Court precedent against suing the state has put an end to lawsuits against administrative agency decisions.

Could enough noise prompt a commission re-evaluation? I have no idea. But the chances of noise seem to be growing. The points I've mentioned aren't the only complaints going around.

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