LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission took the first step Monday toward hiring an independent consultant to review about 230 applications for dispensary licenses, a move intended to allay public concerns following allegations of impropriety during the cultivation licensing process.
In doing so, the commission could delay the launch of the medical marijuana initiative, which voters approved in November 2016.
“People have voted for this. It’s our job to try and move through this process as quickly as we can,” said commissioner Travis Story, who expressed reservations that hiring an independent consultant would be timely. “Ultimately we don’t want to end up with a yearlong process hiring somebody outside, and in that time we could get it done.”
However, Alcoholic Beverage Control Division Director Marry Robin Casteel advised commissioners that the “sheer volume” of applications alone likely warranted an independent party’s help, as two of the commissioners’ terms expire at the end of November.
The five commissioners ultimately supported a motion to “explore using an independent consultant to grade the dispensary applications, with the final authority resting with the commission.” The commission voted to meet July 12 to review options for hiring the consultant, which will first require an emergency rule change.
The announcement resumes state preparations to dispense medical marijuana, which had initially stalled when Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen ruled that the cultivation license award process violated the state’s 2016 constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana. Five cultivators, including one in Jefferson County, were initially selected to grow marijuana, but the process halted until the state Supreme Court reversed Griffen’s decision two weeks ago. While waiting for a ruling from the high court, the state had also ceased reviewing applications for 32 dispensary licenses.
In June, an unsealed letter from the Arkansas attorney general revealed a member of the commission alleged that an unsuccessful cultivation applicant had tried to bribe him, adding to concerns about the integrity of the commission.
The commission did not address cultivation, as the Supreme Court ruling did not take effect immediately. The state can resume licensing cultivators when the mandate is officially issued after the 18-day waiting period.