When Arkansas voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana in 2016, many across the state celebrated. Finally, folks who needed the substance for pain relief and other ailments would be able to access it.
Well, not so fast.
Here we sit nearly two full years later, and there’s still no medical marijuana available. Why? Because the selection process for licensing growers turned into a circus sideshow — that’s why.
Arkansas recently appealed Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen’s order to halt the issuance of the state’s first five medical-marijuana growing licenses, one of which was to go to a Jefferson County conglomerate.
The order also stopped the Medical Marijuana Commission’s review of more than 220 medical-marijuana dispensary applications. Griffen had ruled in favor of the unsuccessful permit applicant Naturalis Health LLC, finding that the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission’s process for scoring the 98 cultivation-license applications was flawed and unconstitutional.
In its request for an expedited appeal, Arkansas argued that this case was a matter of significant public interest, noting that more than 5,000 medical-marijuana registry ID cards have already been issued by the state Health Department.
“Citizens of the state of Arkansas voted to legalize medical marijuana for fellow citizens suffering from chronic, debilitating, and life-threatening health challenges,” state attorneys wrote in their motion. “A long appellate process during which implementation of Amendment 98 is delayed is contrary to the people’s intent in adopting Amendment 98 and thus contrary to the public interest.”
The high court’s order comes before its summer break, which begins June 21. The state Supreme Court will return for its fall term Sept. 6. The court has vowed to speed up its review of the ruling, which is good news.
In the meantime, we are left with a big political mess, and patients who could benefit from medical marijuana are left suffering. We question how our state leaders could let such an important issue be handled so carelessly.
We aren’t faulting Judge Griffen’s order. After much research on the issue, we agree that the process may have indeed been flawed.
Griffen cited potential conflicts of interest by two of the commission’s five members and said the state did not verify applications’ assertions that their proposed facilities would be at least 3,000 feet from schools, churches and daycare centers, as required by the amendment.
Again, how could this have happened?
Voters did their job, but the state has failed its citizens on this very important issue. It’s time to clean up this mess and get back on track. Medical marijuana is needed by many, and the potential economic impact could be great, especially in poorer rural areas like Jefferson County.
Let’s get this done, Arkansas.