IN SESSION: Marijuana Commission. KARK

The state Medical Marijuana Commission is planning to outsource the grading of dispensary permit applications and has been told money is on hand to pay for it.

From KARK:

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Commissioners vote unanimously to explore using independent outside consultant to grade dispensary apps — with final authority resting with them

This is a tacit admission of the bollixed-up handling of cultivation permits, but doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll retreat from the final grading on those next week.

A motion for outsourcing the grading included a commissioner’s comment about a loss of confidence in the group.

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Editorial: The commission could be improved by resignations of a couple of conflicted members.

Update from Benji:

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Commissioner Stephen Carroll made the motion to look into hiring an independent consultant. “I think that the public has lost or is losing trust in this commission,” Carroll said as preface to his proposal.

Mary Robin Casteel, the director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, told commissioners that an appropriation bill that passed last session should allow for the funding of “any agency work that’s done in the enforcement or the administration or carrying out of the duties of the agency.” That would include hiring an outside consultant to grade applications, she said. (ABC serves as staff for the marijuana commission.)

However, she said, it would also require the commission to change its own rules for scoring dispensaries, which it created last year. That would necessitate an emergency rule change, which requires legislative approval. The soonest that could happen is August 16, when the Arkansas Legislative Council meets next, an ABC staff attorney said.

Assuming the rule change goes through, the commission would then have to identify an outside consultant to perform the grading. Casteel told the commission it may be able to utilize an existing contract between the state and a consulting firm, and she’d have to consult with the Office of State Procurement to determine whether that was possible (or whether it would require a separate RFP). The commission will hear from state procurement officials at its next meeting, which it then scheduled for July 12 at 4 p.m.

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The state Supreme Court ruling that legitimized the commission’s scoring of cultivation permits should be finalized by July 9, which would clear the way for permits to actually be awarded on July 12. On June 21, the court reversed a circuit judge’s order that had declared the commission’s scoring method null and void, but the order won’t be declared final until two weeks after that date.

However, it’s not clear whether the commission might award cultivation permits at the July 12 meeting or not. Casteel told the commissioners that the appellees could still request a rehearing from the court in the coming days.

One other wrinkle brought up at today’s meeting: Casteel noted that two commissioners’ terms will be up in November. That means 40 percent of the commission will turn over in less than six months. “Frankly, just the volume of dispensary applications … I’m not sure the commission has enough time to get those scored [before November],” she said. Chairwoman Ronda Henry-Tillman noted earlier in the meeting that there were some 280 dispensary applications.