A company denied a cultivation license by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission pleaded with members of the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee today to hear them out on what they said was bias against them that is keeping prices high and unfairly limiting the cultivation licenses to six.
However, the committee failed to pass a motion that would have recommend the commission to add two licenses before a July cutoff date failed, with three members voting aye, one no and four not voting.
The commission, which has issued five licenses, recently voted to issue a sixth to Carpenter Farms Medical Group after the state settled a lawsuit with Carpenter over the commission’s initial denial of their license. River Valley Relief owner Storm Nolan; the company’s lawyer, Charles Singleton; and their lobbyist, Bradley Phillips, were joined by New Day Cultivation’s Nick Landers to argue that state demand was such that the commission should grant licenses to issue all eight licenses that law allows. A motion to do just that was made by Commission Chair Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, but was replaced by a motion by Commissioner Travis Story to limit the number to six passed. Applications for the three additional licenses will expire July 10; unless the board agrees to expand the number of cultivator licenses to eight, applications by River Valley Relief and New Day Cultivation will expire.
Nolan and Singleton have filed affidavits complaining of bias by Story, whose relationship with cultivator Osage Creek Cultivation — he was the successful applicant’s attorney — was the subject of unsuccessful litigation seeking an injunction against the awarding of licenses. The would-be cultivators argued that Story has three other commissioners “in his pocket” and that his refusal to consider their applications meant that supply would not meet demand and prices would stay high. They cited an estimate by the Department of Finance and Administration that it would take five cultivators to supply the needs of 30,000 medical marijuana cardholders, but there are twice as many cardholders now. They also compared pricing in Arkansas with Oklahoma, which has 5,000 cultivators: Nolan a gram in Arkansas cost around $14, but $5 across state lines.
Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado), who presided over the three-hour hearing, remarked before opening the hearing up for questions that the Medical Marijuana Commission has sole authority in the issuing of licenses.
What followed was emotional testimony by Sen. Bob Ballinger (R-Berryville), who exploded at River Valley’s suggestion that Story, his former law partner, acted unethically and, by extension, his own morals were being called into question. “You’re dragging my name and my friend’s name in the dirt and you have no credibility. You will do anything to get where you are at, where you want to be I know that ain’t right.” He charged that information they offered, including on pricing, was “flat out lies.” He then left the hearing.
Sen. Alan Clark (R-Hot Springs) was also choked up, describing a friend with ALS and another with cancer who have been helped by medical marijuana. He provided the panel information from Dragan Vicentic, owner of Green Springs dispensary in Hot Springs, about shortages of product. “I don’t give a rat’s rear end about any of these suppliers, retailers or rich people getting richer, but I do care about hte people who are sick, who are looking for some help, and I’ve been sickened by watching this commission.”
State Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-Pine Bluff), who has championed Carpenter’s quest for a license and who attended the meeting of the commission at which members voted to limit licenses to six, said Tillman made an “impassioned and logical” case for increasing the number to eight. She said the evidence offered by a dispensary that there is an issue with supply and documentation that Arkansans were going to Oklahoma to buy medical marijuana was “compelling.”
The committee also heard from the commission’s lawyer, Olan Reeves; Alcohol Beverage Control Director Doralee Chandler; former director Robin Casteel; and Don Parker, representing Delta Medical Cannabis of Newport. Parker seemed to be an odd choice to back the commission’s position that there is sufficient supply and appropriate pricing, since Delta Medical has yet to put product on the market. “We don’t think the time is right,” he said. He said the company will be operational in August.
The meeting then devolved into a debate on how to measure what is adequate supply, different estimates on where Arkansas’s pricing falls in the national market and questions from legislators about strains. Sen. Bill Sample (R-Hot Springs) expressed surprise that dispensaries could also grow medical marijuana, though that has been state law from the start.