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Arkansas Supreme Court Clears Medical Marijuana Program Blockade

The five medical cannabis cultivators the state approved in February can now receive their grow licenses.

Adam Drury

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Arkansas Supreme Court Clears Medical Marijuana Program Blockade
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In a major ruling for Arkansas’ medical marijuana program, the state’s Supreme Court threw out a ruling that effectively blocked Arkansas’ five approved cultivators from receiving licenses. Today’s Supreme Court decision should put an end to months of legal challenges from the losing applicants who argued the licensing process was unfair. And patients are hoping it means that Arkansas’ program can finally launch.

Arkansas Supreme Court Dismisses a Prior Ruling That Found The State’s Application Process Unconstitutional

As recently as February, things were looking up for the nearly 5,500 registered medical marijuana patients in Arkansas. After nearly 18 months of failing to license any cultivators, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission announced it was rewarding five out of the nearly 100 applicants permits to start growing.

At the time, it seemed that medical cannabis products would be available in approved dispensaries as early as mid-summer. However, shortly after the successful applicants were announced, losing applicants launched a volley of legal challenges against Arkansas.

They argued that the commission had not reviewed applications fairly or accurately. They also claimed that it had awarded licenses to growers with connections to the licensing board.

Challenges like these are not uncommon. But in Arkansas, they faced tougher odds. A prior Supreme Court ruling established a precedent for reaffirming the state’s constitutional principle of sovereign immunity. In short, you can’t sue Arkansas and its state agencies.

Courts threw out several appeals from rejected applicants. But one company’s case ended up being heard in front of a county judge who found its arguments convincing.

Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen presided over a case brought against the state’s marijuana commission by rejected applicant Naturalis Health LLC. Ultimately, Griffen ruled in favor of Naturalis Health, finding several aspects of the application and review process unconstitutional.

The review process “created the appearance of bias in violation of due process of law,” Griffen wrote in his decision. Those biases included favoring applications who had preexisting relationships with the commission, which neglected to research the tax histories of those applicants, or even if their facilities were the required proper distance from schools and churches.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission Can Now Issue Licenses To Growers

In his ruling, Griffen placed an injunction against the commission, preventing it from awarding licenses to the five approved cultivators. Today’s Supreme Court ruling removed that obstacle, clearing the way for the state’s program to launch.

After Griffen’s ruling, Arkansas appealed, taking the case all the way to the state Supreme Court. The Supreme Court fast-tracked the case, and began hearing arguments in early June.

It didn’t take long for the Court to reach its decision, which vacated the injunction against the Medical Marijuana Commission and dismissed Griffen’s ruling that the review process was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court found that Griffen simply did not have the jurisdiction, as a county judge, to halt the state’s medical marijuana program. That means Arkansas medical marijuana patients are closer to their medicine than they’ve ever been.

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