Few ways out of Arkansas’ med­i­cal ‘pot’ stale­mate

The Sentinel-Record - - VIEWPOINTS - AP Lit­tle Rock Capi­tol cor­re­spon­dent An­drew DeMillo has cov­ered Arkansas gov­ern­ment and pol­i­tics for The As­so­ci­ated Press since 2005.

LIT­TLE ROCK — Weeks af­ter he ef­fec­tively halted the launch of Arkansas’ med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram, a judge is urg­ing of­fi­cials to find a way to re­sume eval­u­at­ing ap­pli­ca­tions. That’s go­ing to be eas­ier said than done.

Pu­laski County Cir­cuit Judge Wen­dell Grif­fen last week en­cour­aged the state’s Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Com­mis­sion to fix the prob­lems he raised last month when he said the state’s process for li­cens­ing cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties vi­o­lated the voter-ap­proved 2016 con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment le­gal­iz­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana. Grif­fen also in­di­cated he didn’t view his rul­ing against the process as ap­peal­able to the state Supreme Court yet.

“The court hopes that the present rul­ing will clear the way for the Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Com­mis­sion and its co-de­fen­dants to pro­ceed with the work re­quired to prop­erly screen, eval­u­ate, and se­lect med­i­cal mar­i­juana cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­ity li­censees,” Grif­fen wrote in an rul­ing last week deny­ing re­quests to lift his pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion against the li­cens­ing process.

Grif­fen’s rul­ing came the same day the state an­nounced it was putting on hold the re­view of hun­dreds of ap­pli­ca­tions from busi­nesses that want to sell med­i­cal mar­i­juana, cit­ing Grif­fen’s ear­lier pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion pre­vent­ing the state from is­su­ing cul­ti­va­tion li­censes.

Grif­fen last month sided with an un­suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cant who claimed the state’s scor­ing of the 95 ap­pli­cants for cul­ti­va­tion li­censes was flawed and cited po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est by two of the Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Com­mis­sion’s five mem­bers. Grif­fen also said the state didn’t prop­erly ver­ify whether the cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties were at least 3,000 feet away from day­cares, schools and churches, as re­quired by the med­i­cal mar­i­juana amend­ment.

The state’s de­ci­sion to stop re­view­ing dis­pen­sary ap­pli­ca­tions for now has dis­heart­ened med­i­cal mar­i­juana sup­port­ers. David Couch, the at­tor­ney who wrote the med­i­cal mar­i­juana amend­ment vot­ers ap­proved two years ago, said the pause would harm pa­tients since the dis­pen­saries are al­lowed un­der the amend­ment to grow a lim­ited amount of mar­i­juana.

“It’s very sad for the pa­tients be­cause I think dis­pen­saries could meet the needs of the pa­tient pool we have now and the an­tic­i­pated pa­tient pool,” said Couch, who ap­plied for cul­ti­va­tion and dis­pen­sary li­censes. Couch said he be­lieved the com­mis­sion could make mi­nor tweaks to its dis­pen­sary li­cens­ing process to ad­dress Grif­fen’s con­cerns over the cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties, or even switch to a new method like a lot­tery-style sys­tem akin to the process used for award­ing liquor per­mits.

Find­ing a way to move for­ward on cul­ti­va­tion li­censes may be even trick­ier. The state has shown no signs of drop­ping its plans to ap­peal Grif­fen’s rul­ing halt­ing the process, and four of the suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants last week also filed no­tices that they would chal­lenge his rul­ing to the state Supreme Court as well.

Those ap­peals set the stage for a po­ten­tially pro­tracted le­gal fight that will keep the cul­ti­va­tion li­cens­ing in limbo even fur­ther. Grif­fen, how­ever, has pointed to past Supreme Court and Ap­peals Court rul­ings that a de­ci­sion send­ing an ac­tion back to an ad­min­is­tra­tive agency for fur­ther pro­ceed­ings is not a fi­nal or­der that can be ap­pealed.

But over­haul­ing the li­cens­ing process or re-eval­u­at­ing the 95 ap­pli­ca­tions to grow med­i­cal mar­i­juana is also prob­lem­atic. The five suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants are un­likely to ac­cept a do-over af­ter al­ready be­ing awarded li­censes once. Most of the suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants had tried to con­vince Grif­fen to lift his pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion, a re­quest he de­nied last week. Start­ing from scratch is just as likely to end up be­fore the state Supreme Court.

In his or­der last week, Grif­fen re­peated his con­cern raised last month that “Arkansans who suf­fer from chronic, de­bil­i­tat­ing, and life-threat­en­ing health con­di­tions must now en­dure more de­lay be­fore gain­ing much-needed ac­cess to lo­cally grown med­i­cal mar­i­juana be­cause the de­fen­dants — state agen­cies re­spon­si­ble for im­ple­ment­ing the Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Amend­ment to the Arkansas Con­sti­tu­tion — vi­o­lated their con­sti­tu­tional and ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties.”

De­spite that warn­ing, the op­tions for avoid­ing a de­lay could be dwin­dling.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.