Arkansas Will Start Licensing Medical Marijuana Growers This Week

Arkansas will start licensing medical marijuana growers this week, starting Tuesday.
Arkansas Will Start Licensing Medical Marijuana Growers This Week

The state of Arkansas passed comprehensive medical cannabis legalization in 2016, after voters approved Amendment 98.  Over the past year, the state has been rolling out its regulatory policy and reviewing applications from prospective growers and retailers. Already, the Arkansas Department of Health has approved 4,116 applications for patients with qualifying conditions. With registered patients ready, Arkansas will start licensing medical marijuana growers this week. But unusual legal hurdles could pose challenges for the state’s young medical cannabis program.

Arkansas Will Start Licensing Medical Marijuana Growers This Week

Today, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is slated to announce the winners of the first round of applications to grow cannabis. According to reports, the state has approved applications for five growing centers. These groups will be the first to legally grow medical cannabis in Arkansas.

After the initial approval of growing operations, the commission will begin reviewing applications for retailers. By May, Arkansas officials expect to have approved over 30 dispensaries, said a spokesperson for the state Department of Finance and Administration.

All of this means that by early summer, qualifying patients will finally be able to legally purchase medical marijuana in Arkansas. After a year of debates about implementing the program, growers and retailers are now jockeying for position. But not everyone can make the cut, leading to concerns that rejected applicants could sue the state over its decision.

The five growers the state will approve tomorrow represent just a fraction of the applications submitted to the state. According the Arkansas medical marijuana commissioners, who reviewed 95 applications for growing centers, some applicants just didn’t make the cut.

But applying for a permit to grow medical cannabis isn’t cheap, and growers whose applications did not pass muster are looking for a refund. Some are even preparing to sue the state over its decision.

Just submitting an application to become an approved grower costs $15,000 dollars. Growers then have to fork over an extra $100,000 if the Commission accepts their application.

Yet those aren’t the only costs. Given the complexity and competitiveness of the application process, many applicants hired attorneys and consultants for help.

All told, competitive bidders for grow operations spent between $150,000 and $200,000, according to industry insiders. These costs represent a significant investment. No wonder losing applicants are preparing to file legal challenges against the commission’s decision.

This type of litigious response is more common than many may think.  But Arkansas has thrown prospective growers and their lawyers a curveball.

In a prior court ruling, the Arkansas Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutional principle of sovereign immunity. And that means the state and its agencies can’t be sued in court.

Some appeals from rejected applicants have already been thrown out, though it’s unclear whether these are linked to the precedent. However, the state still expects some applicants to appeal. Their argument is that the state has not reviewed their application fairly.

While some growers may feel frustrated over the competitive application process, many argue the state’s rules are better for patients. Whatever the Arkansas medical marijuana commission decides, patients can expect.

Ultimately, the state’s concern is ensuring growers and dispensaries have enough high quality, affordable medical cannabis available.

Furthermore, applicants who withdrew early or failed to meet minimum requirements received a full refund. Applicants who scored outside the top five will receive a refund of half their application cost.

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