Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen heard testimony today but did not rule on whether to issue an injunction against the award of medical marijuana cultivation permits because of a lawsuit contending errors and conflict of interest in the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission’s scoring on the top five applicants.
The hearing, which started at 10 a.m., concluded around 3 p.m., including a lunch break. Griffen announced at the end that he’d likely rule by Wednesday of next week.
The question of sovereign immunity — whether the state can be sued in its courts — was raised this morning, but dismissed by the judge.
It was interesting if only to get another lower court ruling on whether a new Supreme Court precedent would prevent an appeal of administrative agency ruling. Griffen said the fact that medical marijuana was legalized by a constitutional amendment that anticipated court appeals exempted it from the recent ruling placing a severe limit on lawsuits against the state.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson had previously told state agencies under his control — and that would include the Department of Finance and Administration in this case — not to raise a sovereign immunity defense without his permission.
His apparent approval of this challenge wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for him politically.
The majority of Arkansans voted for medical marijuana. Getting this lawsuit tossed quickly on the immunity issue would speed the process toward the availability of medical marijuana (after the commission issues 32 dispensary permits). However, unsuccessful applicants have raised a great deal of smoke about errors large in small in the grading process and three commissioners have been accused or conflicts or unexplained changes in scoring at the last minute.
Benji Hardy will have a fuller report on the hearing later. Witnesses mostly discussed elements listed in the lawsuit.