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Decision time ahead 

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission will receive 95 applications from would be medical cannabis growers Dec. 15 so they may begin scoring them, Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin said Monday.

The DFA legal team and Alcohol Beverage Control staff members have been "depersonalizing" the applications for release to the commission, and are "on track to meet" the mid-December deadline the commission set in October, Hardin said. The public may also see the applications, which have been redacted of personal information, such as Social Security numbers, once they've been provided to commissioners.

The application form was 25 pages long, but applicants tacked on hundreds of addendums; the shortest application ran 400 pages. The commission is only required to read the first 25 pages, however.

The commission may set target dates for announcing who has been awarded cultivator licenses when it meets at 3:30 p.m. Friday in Room 503 of the 1515 Building at 1515 W. Seventh St., Hardin said. Review of dispensary applications will follow completion of the review of cultivation applications.

Cultivators paid a fee of $15,000 to apply. Only five of the 95 applicants will be licensed; the remainder will get half the fee back. The fee for dispensary applicants was $7,500; the commission received 227 applications. The commission can award up to 32 dispensary licenses. The state treasury will receive a total of $1.6 million from the fees.

Though some applications were disqualified for insufficient information, they are still active until the board takes action formally to accept or reject, Hardin said.

As of Friday, Nov. 24, 2,697 Arkansans had applied to the state Department of Health for certificates that will allow them to purchase medical cannabis.

Persons with tickets to attend the Ark-La-Tex Cannabis Business Expo Dec. 6-7 at the Statehouse Convention Center are invited to an after-party from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Dec. 6 at Rebel Kettle Brewing Co. The party is sponsored by weedmaps.com, a website that links to doctors who will certify patients for qualifying conditions and will link to dispensaries when they are up and running. An Expo badge (tickets $50) is required for admission.

Republicans on the U.S. House Financial Services Committee last month blocked an amendment that would have prohibited the federal government from punishing financial institutions that allow legal, marijuana-related businesses to have bank accounts. The proposed amendment, by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado), would have been attached to a bill concerning the "stress testing" of banks to determine their financial soundness. Though several Democrats on the committee, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California), spoke in favor of the amendment, a motion to table its consideration was upheld by the committee 29-14, on a party-line vote.

Many financial institutions, both in Arkansas and nationwide, are reluctant to deal with the cannabis industry because the federal prohibition on marijuana as a narcotic remains in effect, as do federal statutes concerning money laundering and drug trafficking that could be applied if the Justice Department — headed by notoriously marijuana-unfriendly Attorney General Jeff Sessions — decided to return to the days of Reefer Madness. In some states, the lack of banking options has led to dispensaries and cultivation centers sitting on hoardes of cash they are unable to deposit, causing security concerns. In a cover story Arkansas Times published earlier this month, state Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) said he had been in discussion with at least one bank in the state that was considering extending accounts to cannabis-related businesses, with House saying the bank — which he refused to name, at the bank's request — would require signed nondisclosure agreements before opening those accounts.

Kentucy Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes has convened a task force to study legalizing medical marijuana and work on legislation that would bring medical marijuana to that state. If Kentucky voters decided to legalize medical cannabis, it would be the third Southern state to do so, after Florida and Arkansas.

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