LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Medical Marijuana commission voted to give a consulting group the power to evaluate applications and award 32 dispensary licenses for medical pot.
By a vote of 3-2 Wednesday, the commission agreed that a consulting group — comprising a five-member panel — could review and score hundreds of dispensary applications.
Commissioner Travis Story strongly opposed the motion, arguing the commission itself had a constitutionally-granted responsibility to review and score the applications.
“I, for one, am not a fan of shuffling off my duties that I signed up for to somebody else,” Story said.
But last week, Arkansas lawmakers passed an amendment granting the commission the authority to hire a consultant. The commission ultimately voted in favor of hiring an outside party, largely citing the speed with which dedicated consultants could review the volume of the applications.
The composition of the consulting panel will mirror that of the commission to include a representative from medical, pharmaceutical, government relations, legal, and either agriculture or cannabis fields, according to Alcohol Beverage Control attorney Danielle Hoefer.
Office of State Procurement lawyer David Withrow said the consultant will be selected within about a month. In the adopted selection process, the lowest bidder will automatically be hired. The consulting panel will then have 30 days to review and score the applications or there will be a financial penalty.
The commission will award the licenses under a 2016 constitutional amendment which legalized medical marijuana. Commission spokesman Scott Hardin said that while the commission could add input after the consultant selects the recipients, it “is not anticipated or likely.”
The commission also discussed an unsuccessful cultivation applicant who was disqualified by Alcohol Beverage Control staff. The disqualification came after the commission had already scored them as the runner up should of the top five license awardees not have paid fees in a timely manner.
Carpenter Farms Medical Group was approved by ABC, who reviewed all applications to verify they met the minimum requirements before commission review. ABC Director Mary Robin Casteel said that as the commission scored applications, ABC submitted the highest scoring applicants to the FBI for background checks. She said Carpenter Farms had discrepancies in reported ownership which ABC could not reconcile, and the application was then disqualified.
Although commission Chair Dr. Rhona Henry-Tillman and Dr. J. Carlos Roman both voted to overrule ABC’s disqualification, the motion did not pass and Carpenter Farms remains disqualified.
Abraham Carpenter Jr., who is listed as majority owner of Carpenter Farms, expressed disappointment in the commission’s vote. He said his application did clearly demonstrate ownership.
“We’re going to pursue whatever options that we deem necessary to be treated fairly,” Carpenter said.