LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission plans to announce the first five groups that will be allowed to legally grow medical cannabis, but potential growers don’t know what to make of the reveal.
The commission is expected to announce the groups today, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The reveal is a major step toward getting the drug to qualifying patients after residents approved a state constitutional amendment in 2016 that legalizes medical cannabis.
El Dorado-based South Arkansas Cannabis Solutions, LLC, is the only group to have applied for a cultivation license in Union County. The group announced its formation in September and entered into a lease-purchase agreement with a limited liability corporation for the former Therma-Flite manufacturing facility on Champagnolle Road.
At the time, local attorney Mattison Thomas, who was representing Cannabis Solutions, said the group submitted the only application for a cultivation facility in Zone 8, which includes 14 counties in southwest Arkansas, including Union, Ouachita and Columbia counties.
The group, for which local business owner Bilo Beege is listed as incorporator/organizer in the Arkansas Secretary of State’s LLC listings, has also filed an application for a dispensary license. The state is expected to award 32 dispensary licenses later this spring.
Thomas previously said that if the applications are approved for Cannabis Solutions, operations could be up and running within 90 to 120 days.
The medical marijuana community’s excitement is tempered by uncertainty after the state Supreme Court ruled last month that Arkansas and its agencies can’t be sued in state court, casting doubt on legal options for unsuccessful applicants.
Commissioners reviewed 95 applications for growing centers. The cost just to submit an application is $15,000 and those who get licenses will owe an additional $100,000.
Some applicants whose proposals didn’t meet minimum requirements or who withdrew from consideration early will receive a full refund. Bidders with scores outside the top five will be refunded half the cost of the application fee.
With so much invested, losing applicants were expected to file legal challenges after the commission’s Tuesday announcement as last-ditch efforts to get one of the five growing licenses. But the state high court’s ruling in January cemented the constitutional principle of sovereign immunity.
“It’s just another curveball,” said Alex Gray, an attorney for a firm that represents the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Association. “I think some people will still try to appeal.”
Gray is part of a group trying to get a measure on the November ballot that would amend the state constitution to allow the General Assembly to waive sovereign immunity in some cases.
The Arkansas Health Department reports already approving more than 4,000 applications for registry identification cards for patients with qualifying conditions. Cards will be distributed a month before dispensaries open.