Med­i­cal pot dead­line opens new set of chal­lenges

El Dorado News-Times - - Front Page -

LIT­TLE ROCK (AP) — Arkansas will get its first hint this week of just how large the state's med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try will be­come with hun­dreds of ap­pli­ca­tions ex­pected to be de­liv­ered for those want­ing to grow and sell the drug. But there are still a host of chal­lenges that re­main as the state pre­pares to carry out a voter-ap­proved con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana for peo­ple with cer­tain ail­ments.

Mon­day marks the dead­line for ap­pli­ca­tions to be sub­mit­ted to the state for dis­pen­saries that will sell mar­i­juana and cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties that will grow it, kick­ing off an ar­du­ous process for a state panel to sift through those pro­pos­als and score them. The state has re­ceived 52 ap­pli­ca­tions for dis­pen­saries and 19 for cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties, but is ex­pect­ing a flurry of last-minute pro­pos­als on the dead­line day.

"Ev­ery­one is brac­ing them­selves for Mon­day know­ing it's go­ing to be an ex­tremely busy day," said Scott Hardin, spokesman for the De­part­ment of Fi­nance and Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The state will al­low five cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties and 32 dis­pen­saries, with the dis­pen­saries di­vided equally among eight re­gions through­out the state. The five-mem­ber Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Com­mis­sion will spend the com­ing weeks go­ing through the ap­pli­ca­tions and scor­ing them based on sev­eral fac­tors, in­clud­ing abil­ity to op­er­ate the fa­cil­ity, qual­i­fi­ca­tions and its op­er­a­tions plan.

Part of the process will in­volve re­mov­ing names and other in­for­ma­tion from the ap­pli­ca­tions that could iden­tify in­di­vid­u­als as­so­ci­ated with the ap­pli­ca­tions, and Hardin said the av­er­age length of an ap­pli­ca­tion is 1,000 pages. It's un­clear when the com­mis­sion will be in a po­si­tion to award per­mits.

David Couch, the at­tor­ney who spear­headed the cam­paign for med­i­cal mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion last year, said he ex­pects at least 40 ap­pli­ca­tions for cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties and at least 300 for dis­pen­saries. Couch, the act­ing ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for the Arkansas Med­i­cal

Mar­i­juana As­so­ci­a­tion, said the hard part will be sift­ing through what he says will be a high num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions from well-es­tab­lished busi­nesses.

"I think it's go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult for the com­mis­sion," Couch said. "I think you're go­ing to have a lot of high-qual­ity ap­pli­ca­tions. You may see the top five sep­a­rated by a point or less."

The state Health De­part­ment says it's al­ready ap­proved nearly 1,200 ap­pli­ca­tions for registry cards for pa­tients with qual­i­fy­ing con­di­tions to use med­i­cal mar­i­juana. The pa­tients, how­ever, won't re­ceive the cards un­til 30 days be­fore the prod­uct is avail­able in the state.

The roll­out of med­i­cal mar­i­juana in Arkansas comes as its op­po­nents are pre­par­ing new fights at the lo­cal level over the drug. The con­ser­va­tive Fam­ily Coun­cil Ac­tion Com­mit­tee, which cam­paigned against the mar­i­juana amend­ment last year, is look­ing at as­sist­ing ef­forts in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to pre­vent dis­pen­saries and cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties from open­ing. The amend­ment al­lows cit­i­zens to pe­ti­tion for a lo­cal-op­tion vote to ban dis­pen­saries and cul­ti­va­tion, and the coun­cil's head says the group has found peo­ple in at least three coun­ties in­ter­ested in hold­ing pe­ti­tion drives.

"We are poised to step up and of­fer re­sources to those lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties that may not want those fa­cil­i­ties in their ju­ris­dic­tions," said Jerry Cox, the com­mit­tee's pres­i­dent.

How the state han­dles the po­ten­tial del­uge of ap­pli­ca­tions com­ing in for those fa­cil­i­ties could de­ter­mine where those next fights wind up.

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