The wait for medical marijuana access will continue in Arkansas, where voters legalized medical marijuana by voter initiative in the November 2016 election with a 53 percent vote. It’s been a slow roll-out for the southern state, where lawmakers were attempting to delay implementation of the constitutional amendment less than a month after it was passed. Since then, there has been some progress – but not with the haste that some patients really need.
Recently, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission (AMMC) finally approved the first 5 facilities that would be licensed to cultivate and dispense medical marijuana – but shortly thereafter, a lawsuit was filed by one of the denied applicants, claiming the process contained scoring irregularities, bias, conflicts of interest and violations of the rules. Last week, Judge Wendell Griffen ruled in favor of the applicant, effectively tossing out the state’s approval of the five licenses.
“The Court takes no joy in reaching or declaring this conclusion, nor should anyone else treat the conclusion as anything other than disappointing and sobering,” the judge wrote.
Even though this is a set back for the industry – and more importantly patients – even advocates don’t want to see the case appealed, but would rather see the application process started over and done fairly and properly. Some have suggested using a lottery system, where all qualified applicants get the same chance and licenses are awarded at random.
“The Attorney General disagrees with the circuit court and has appealed the ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court,” according to a statement provided to Talk Business & Politics by Rutledge spokeswoman Nicole Waugh.
Unfortunately, while starting over immediately would bring access to patients the fastest, the defendants in the case – the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, and the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission – have moved forward with an appeal. A second lawsuit has also been filed in Lee County, also over the licensing process.
It’s been almost a year now since the AMMC approved the regulations for cultivating and dispensing medical marijuana and now, with an appeal and a second lawsuit, it could be months until things are sorted out and the initial five licenses are finally awarded. With over 4,700 people who have already applied to the medical marijuana program, the facilities who end up with the licenses will need to be prepared to meet a high and long-awaited demand for medical marijuana.