Past associations raise questions on marijuana permit awards UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Past associations raise questions on marijuana permit awards UPDATE

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2018 at 7:48 AM

TRAVIS STORY: Marijuana commissioner and associte of a winner.
  • TRAVIS STORY: Marijuana commissioner and associte of a winner.
As mentioned yesterday, unsuccessful applicants for medical marijuana cultivation permits are raising many questions about the review process, including whether the five Medical Marijuana Commission members were truly shielded from knowledge of people involved in the applications.

Commissioners are not responding to questions. A spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration Department, home to the regulatory agency, said they'd encouraged members not to respond to media inquiries.

It IS a slippery slope to open the door to questions. But some questions  need to be addressed

Yesterday, I mentioned the extraordinarily high score Commissioner Carlos Roman gave a single applicant out of more than 80 completed applications. It would be interesting to hear him explain a 98 score for Natural State Medicinals when no other applicant could break out of the 70s in his scoring.

Here's a question I put yesterday to Commissioner Travis Story, a Fayetteville lawyer, through his law partner, Republican State Rep.  Bob Ballinger. I got no response.

Should Story have participated in grading the winning application by Osage Creek Cultivation of Berryville? Story is listed as the incorporator/organizer on separate business enterprises operated by the family of Jay and Mary Trulove of Berryville, the sole owners of the winning cultivation application. Ballinger also incorporated one of their businesses, Trulove Sales and Rental

Names of owners of companies were blanked out on materials the commissioners reviewed. But Jay Trulove was listed as the organizer.

Was Story, given his various dealings with the Truloves, unaware of its marijuana application? If he was aware, should he have graded that application? For the record, he's listed on public documents as incorporator/organizer of Trulove Farms in 2016 (now revoked); and Trulove Properties, incorporated in 2016. Incorporating an LLC is routine legal work and I don't suggest anything nefarious. But it does suggest more than casual association between Story and the Truloves.

Story scored Osage Creek at 94.5, tied for the second-highest score he awarded among all applicants. He gave a 97 to Delta Medical Cannabis, which was selected, and a 94.5 to River Valley Relief, which finished just out of the running.

Business associations are fair cause for questions, just as they are in any other political endeavor. Transparency demands some answers.

UPDATE: Arkansas Business has detailed coverage of a panel discussion of medical marijuana at Tuesday's Little Rock Rotary Club meeting. Lots of relevant information, but particularly interesting were some comments from former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a minority percentage owner in one of the successful cultvation applicants, Natural State Wellness.

He said, for one, that Arkansas should have an executive director in charge of the regulatory agency, something that apparently would require additional regulation.

He also said this, particularly relevant as questions grow about the review process by a citizens commission:

McDaniel, appearing alongside David Couch, the Little Rock attorney who wrote the 2016 constitutional amendment that voters approved to allow medical marijuana in Arkansas, said the commission is made up of "wonderful people" who have "done a tremendous job so far under great strain."

But he pointed out that the group had rejected the idea of contracting with an outside firm to review and score of thousands of pages of cultivation center applications, a method he said would have been "standardized, uniform, objective [and] verifiable." He noted that the commission is now faced with even more paperwork, having to score a far greater number of applications for dispensaries.

Outside review is a great idea. Others have talked of review after an initial lottery. In hindsight, anything would be better than what we've done.l The additional workload is only part of the problem with the pending dispensary applications for 32 permits. The possibility of monkey business also multiplies.

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