Politico reports on how putting local officials in charge of medical marijuana has been a breeding ground for corruption and/or political favoritism.
Events in Arkansas get significant attention.
The article recounts the legal challenges made by unsuccessful permit applicants in Arkansas, particularly African-American applicants.
Naturalis Health, one of the losing applicants in Arkansas, succeeded in getting a temporary restraining order against the state Medical Marijuana Commission after a Circuit Court judge ruled that the regulators carried out the licenses process in a “flawed, biased, and arbitrary and capricious manner.” But that ruling was thrown out by the state Supreme Court.
And while Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge wrote in a letter to the chief justice that allegations of improprieties are “unsubstantiated,” she raised the issue of a commissioner being offered a bribe by one of the winning companies. The commissioner did not report the attempted bribe, Rutledge wrote, and there is no law requiring him to do so. But the commissioner gave the applicant “the second-highest score that he awarded to any entity,” which was “significantly higher” than any other commissioner.
“We have no evidence that the commissioner took the bribe or based his scoring on the offer,” the letter, first reported by KHBS, read. “Still, we believe we needed to provide these facts to the tribunal.”
Other applicants similarly filed lawsuits and ethics complaints about the process.
“It was just unbelievable … the level of corruption was shocking to me,” said Mildred Barnes Griggs, who was part of a team that applied for but did not receive a license in Arkansas, and responded with a series of official complaints alleging favoritism and a lack of accountability.
Among the topics covered is former Marijuana Commissioner Travis Story, who had ties as a lawyer to one of the successful permit applicants and to another lawyer, Sen. Bob Ballinger, who received campaign contributions from marijuana interests.
The ground is familiar, but it’s a good roundup. The article notes that other states, unlike Arkansas, gave scoring of applicants to third parties rather than commissioners, though that process was also criticized.