The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission unanimously decided Thursday to choose the state’s final two dispensaries from a list of expired applications rather than initiate a new application process if the governor’s office and a legislative committee sign off on the process.
The new dispensaries will be located in Zones 6 and 8, which have only four dispensaries each. The state’s other zones have five dispensaries each.
Based on previous scoring, the next applicants in line to receive licenses are Green Remedies Group of Garland County in Zone 6 and T&C Management of Texarkana in Zone 8. A legislative committee and the governor’s office will need to sign off on a rule change to allow the commission to use the existing applications, which expired earlier this year.
The process for changing the rules could take months, putting the timeline for issuing the remaining licenses late this year or early next year, commission spokesman Scott Hardin said.
“The fastest process anytime is always going to be to stay within the existing rules,” Hardin said. “When we get into changing the rules, this is simply the required steps by state law.”
A state constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 2016, allows for a maximum of 40 dispensaries. There are currently 36 open dispensaries in the state and two more that are licensed but not yet open.
Zone 6 is made up of eight counties in west central Arkansas, while Zone 8 is made up of 14 counties in southwest Arkansas.
Using the existing applications will require a rule change, since the applications have expired. The commission accepted applications in 2017 and awarded the first licenses on Jan. 9, 2019. The applications that did not receive permits were held in reserve until they expired in February of this year.
Upon expiration of the applications, the state Alcohol Beverage Control division refunded fees to the applicants and gave applicants a choice of picking up the hard copies of their applications or having them shredded. While the hard copies have been picked up or destroyed, the applications are still on file electronically, Hardin said.
Once the commission approves new rules, the rules will need to be approved by the governor’s office and the Arkansas Legislative Council, Hardin said.
Sara Farris of the Attorney’s General’s office presented the commission with three options for awarding the final two licenses. The first option was to initiate a new application process and have the commissioners or a consultant score them on a merit-based system. At least two commissioners, including chair James Miller of Bryant, said they did not prefer that option.
Farris said another option was to use a double-blind lottery system similar to the system ABC uses to award retail liquor permits. The commission chose not to use this option for the final two permits but will use the double-blind lottery system to award applications in the future if a permit is revoked.
In other business, the commission denied the request of 3J Investments to move from Lamar in Johnson County to Russellville. 3J Investments is one of two dispensaries in the state that is licensed but not yet open. Adam Harrison, owner of 420 Dispensary in Russellville, spoke in opposition of the move, arguing that there was not a need for another dispensary in the area.
Commissioners raised concerns about dispensaries wanting to move from rural areas to more urban areas.
Alex Gray, representing 3J Investments, argued the move would help patients in the area and that there would be an increase in patients if another dispensary was located in Russellville.
The commission voted unanimously to deny the move.