By Dwain Hebda (AMP News)
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Would-be medical marijuana entrepreneurs give Arkansas’ Medical Marijuana Commission (AMMC) top marks for its handling of the early stages of the application process.
But with 322 applicants for dispensary and/or cultivation privileges, even the state’s best-laid plans are straining under the weight of its workload. The AMMC had bandied around an end-of-year target date for awarding licenses, but the number and breadth of applicants scuttled those plans almost immediately.
At a packed Oct. 16 meeting of the administrative body, the first since the deadline for application, commissioners announced no licenses would be awarded until at least after the first of the year, and refused to speculate exactly when.
“There’s no specific timetable,” said Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration. “I can say that everyone involved is really making this a priority and understands that they want to do it quickly, but yet responsibly.”
The news wasn’t entirely surprising. Heading into the Sept. 13 application deadline, only 100 applications had been received; day-of, 222 more were accepted. Administrative tasks must be completed before the applications can be reviewed by commissioners, including FBI background checks for every person listed in each application and redacting certain information throughout.
“It’s depersonalization,” Hardin said. “That is, going through each of the applications and redacting the individuals’ names, so when the five members of the Medical Marijuana Commission are scoring these, they’re doing it based on the merit of the application and not the individual behind the application.”
Dispensaries accounted for 227 of the applications, while the remaining 95 were for cultivation operations. Applicants ponied up $7,500 for each dispensary application and $15,000 for each cultivation center application, which must be 60 percent owned by an Arkansas resident or residents, Hardin said.
According to DFA information, all eight regulatory zones in Arkansas received multiple applications for both dispensaries and cultivation facilities. Zone 3 (upper Delta) and Zone 7 (lower Delta), were first and second in the number of cultivation center applications, with Jefferson County leading all other counties in the state with 13.
Zone 3 also edged out Zone 5 (central Arkansas) for the total number of dispensary applications; Pulaski County led all counties on this measurement with 26 dispensary applications.
Despite what appears to be a protracted processing period ahead, applicants praised the DFA’s process thus far.
“The rollout so far has been really, really good,” said Chris Stone, president of Illinois-based HCI Alternatives. “It’s amazing for as small a staff as they have at the ABC (Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control), to be as responsive as they are.”
“We decided to do this back in early July, so we didn’t have a lot of time to be able to put all this stuff together, and there is a lot of stuff. Our dispensary application was 1,600-plus pages and our cultivation was 1,700-plus pages. So it takes a lot of time to put this stuff together. But calling the ABC, getting information about certain questions that we had about the application and whatnot was awesome. They were incredible.”
“I think the commissioners really have the best interests of the state at heart when they developed their rules and regs,” said Storm Nelson of Fort Smith, an applicant and president of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association. “We’ve heard some feedback online, especially social media, that this has taken so long and when are we going to have access to our medicine, et cetera. And we keep telling people the state is doing their best.
“Everything is moving forward like it should. There’s a timeframe for everything, although it is open-ended on the application reviews. I think the state is really moving as quickly as they could have and not dragging their feet.”
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