Rep. Douglas House (top), R-North Little Rock, talks with a group of medical marijuana supporters Tuesday as they hold a rally on the state Capitol gr…
State names 5 companies picked to grow medical marijuana
The Delta emerged Tuesday as the prime location for Arkansas future medical marijuana industry as the state announced its top five picks of companies to receive growing licenses.
The licenses were announced the same day dozens of medical marijuana supporters appeared at the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to make changes to the medical marijuana program next year. The proposals include adding qualifying medical conditions, ending a 4 percent tax on medical marijuana sales and allowing students approved to use medical marijuana to have access to non-smokeable forms of cannabis on school grounds.
The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission released commissioners rankings of 95 applicants for cannabis cultivation centers. Four of the five would locate facilities in Jefferson, Jackson and Woodruff counties in the Delta; the fifth would be in Carroll County in Northwest Arkansas.
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Tuesdays announcement marked another step toward getting cannabis into the hands of patients who have qualifying medical conditions to use it, and it came just a little more than 15 months after Arkansans voted to legalize it. The commissions next step will be awarding licenses to 32 of the 227 applicants seeking to dispense it.
Rowland joined a handful of cannabis experts in Chula Vista to talk about the economic benefits of legalization during a forum hosted by the South Bay Economic Development Corp. Representatives from Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and National City attended the forum to learn more about the impact of regulating a legal marijuana market.
Don Parker, a Jonesboro attorney and co-owner of Delta Medical Cannabis Co. Inc., watched Tuesdays commission meeting online with his wife. They hugged and jumped up and down when they heard their companys name announced.
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Were still just pleasantly shocked, Parker said in a phone interview. You know, we felt like we put together a good application, but you just never know. There were so many good applicants.
Natural State Wellness Enterprises submitted applications for two facilities, but state rules preclude one company from operating more than one cultivation facility.
A spokesman for the group — which includes Hank Wilkins V, the son of Jefferson Countys County Judge Hank Wilkins IV — said Tuesday that it hadnt yet decided which county it would choose for its operation.
The Michigan Senate voted 19-16 against the House bill. The legislation would have annulled a law classifying vehicle transportation or possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor, unless its enclosed in a case in the trunk, or in a case not readily accessible from the vehicles interior if theres no trunk.
Little is known about the chosen applicants. Information released has mostly been limited to the company name, location and registered agent.
Once the chosen applicants receive notification letters from the commission, each will have seven days to pay a $100,000 licensing fee and post a $500,000 performance bond.
There is a track record and an indication, not just a sampling, we see that clearly other states where the citizens allowed medical cannabis — all of those state economies have benefited from making that decision. Jefferson County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV The Medical Marijuana Commission announced on Tuesday five companies, including two in Jefferson County, the state intends to license to grow medical marijuana under a 2016 voter-approved amendment that legalized the drug for certain patients.
If any company fails to meet those requirements in the time allowed, the opportunity will pass to the next-highest-scoring company.
“His phone has been ringing off the hook,” Wilkins IV said shortly after the announcement on Tuesday. “I am excited. As the (medical marijuana) initiative approached, and after it was approved by voters, there were several people from around the state that came to talk with me about being a part of that group… . I wrote support letters for anyone that asked. The strength of people’s application is what made the difference. My son was at the ground floor.”
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Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration officials expect commissioners to take several months to sort through the dispensaries applications. Commissioners plan to meet March 14 and set hard deadlines on selecting those firms.
The Finance and Administration Department received applications from June 30-Sept. 18; commissioners received redacted copies of all 95 cultivation applications in mid-December, and on Tuesday, they described the grueling process of wading through the proposals, most of which exceeded 1,000 pages each.
Paul also criticized how the bill would limit medical marijuana only to certain patients, people with neuropathic pain, persistent muscle spasms due to multiple sclerosis or paraplegia, nausea or vomiting due to chemotherapy or loss of weight and appetite due to cancer, HIV or AIDS. The original state question leaves the decision up to a doctor.
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Im just going to say it, this was almost not feasible, said Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, who chairs the five-member commission.
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Before being provided to commissioners, the cultivation applications were stripped by Finance and Administration Department staff of all identifying information to remove any hint of bias. Each was graded on a 100-point rubric that included bonus points for categories like ownership diversity and locating in an economically depressed county.
Medical pot is expected to be a boon for poor areas, creating hundreds of jobs, according to the state Department of Finance and Administration. The agency expects medical cannabis to produce $40 million annually in retail sales and $2.4 million in state sales taxes.
All five commissioners scores were combined for an aggregate score. The highest-scoring applicant, Natural State Medicinals Cultivation, received 486 total points. The lowest-scoring applicant, Medigrow LLC, received 227 points. Another 13 applicants received no score because they didnt meet the minimum criteria for consideration.
Natural State Agronomics Inc. CEO Ken Shollmier said he is spending $45 million to start his company to manufacture medical cannabis in Redfield. Hee plans to hire 300 people and build a new facility in addition to an existing facility on a plot of 66 acres at 100 E. Boone St. in Redfield. The existing building used to house Charles River Laboratories.
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Department of Finance and Administration officials expect to release copies of the top applications today, which should shed more light on the applicants.
Available information shows that former Arkansas Attorney General Dustin Mc-Daniel is part of Natural State Wellness Enterprises, and former Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Jason Willett is the registered agent for Delta Medical Cannabis Co.
But State Representative Bob Ballinger – who's district includes the cultivation site – says he's skeptical. "I don't know if it's a totally positive thing," Representative Bob Ballinger said. "I do feel like it is difficult to control. What I don't want is avoiding it being just a step to recreational marijuana." The top 5 scorers have seven days to pay a licensing free of $100,000 and show that they can pay the state even if their crop fails.
McDaniel said in a statement Tuesday that his group plans to begin construction soon.
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We appreciate that it is a public trust that has been placed upon our company to produce quality, safe and legal medicine to Arkansas patients, he said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinsons son, Asa Hutchinson III, was the listed agent for unsuccessful cultivation applicant DB Science LLC. Hutchinson III is an attorney and is listed as the incorporator/organizer for several Northwest Arkansas businesses.
Hopeful applicants and future medical cannabis users began lining up outside the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Divisions headquarters well before Tuesday afternoons meeting. The line outside the door wove through the parking lot, and city fire marshals barred some from entering the packed fifth-floor meeting room.
Even among unsuccessful applicants, the mood after the meeting remained upbeat. David Eddington, a Marmaduke pharmacist, was disappointed that his group fell short.
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Im disappointed, but this is still an important day for Arkansas, he said in the parking lot after Tuesdays announcement, adding that he hopes the introduction of medical cannabis will help reduce the number of people addicted to opioids.
As for the chosen applicants, they plan to begin constructing facilities in hopes of sowing the first seeds in a few months. After paying the licensing fee and posting bond, each chosen cultivator must pass state regulators on-site inspections before starting operations. After that, it will take several months for the cannabis plants to mature enough for harvest and distribution.
Qualifying patients could have access to medical marijuana by the fall, according to industry experts earliest projections. Others say the drug wont be available for purchase until 2019.
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The Arkansas Department of Health has approved 4,116 applications for patients registry ID cards, and 244 more are pending. The cards will be issued a month before dispensaries open.
Amendment 98, which voters passed in 2016, allows for up to eight cultivation centers, but it gives the commission discretion to decide how many to license. Little Rock attorney David Couch, the amendments primary backer, said the commission could issue additional growing licenses later if it determines that demand has exceeded supply statewide or in one particular region.
Qualifying patients will be able to buy no more than 2.5 ounces of usable medical marijuana every two weeks, according to state law.