Arkansas Marijuana: Who’s in Charge in Little Rock?

Now that the Sept. 18 deadline for cultivator and dispensary applications has passed, it’s time for the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission to review each of the 227 cultivator and dispensary applications filed as of 4:57 p.m. local time.

The members of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission were appointed in December 2016 by Governor Asa Hutchinson, President Pro Tempore of the Arkansas Senate, Sen. Jonathan Dismang, and the Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, Rep. Jeremy Gillam. None of the three appointing members of the state government supported the passage of Issue 6, and Gov. Hutchinson is a former DEA director and an outspoken opponent of medical marijuana legalization. They nevertheless assembled a committee of individuals who have proven accomplishments in their respective fields, citing a commitment to abide by the will of the voters.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is tasked with the administration and regulation of dispensary and cultivation facility applications in coordination with the Arkansas Alcohol and Beverage Commission. The Arkansas Department of Health administers the program for patients and caregivers. Each commissioner receives an $85 stipend per day for each meeting attended or while performing commission business.

Gov. Hutchinson appointed Dr. Rhonda Henry-Tillman, Sen. Dismang appointed Dr. J. Carlos Roman and James Miller, and Rep. Gillam appointed Travis Story and Dr. Stephen Carrol. The commissioners have been tight-lipped about whether they supported Issue 6, with the exception of Dr. Roman, who, as reported by Arkansas Public Media, stated outright he did not vote for the Constitutional amendment.

During the commission’s first scheduled meeting on Dec. 12, 2016, the commissioners drew to determine the length of their terms. Commissioners Story, Miller, and Tillman will serve four-year terms, while commissioners Carrol and Roman will serve two-year terms. The commissioners also decided on the $85 stipend during this meeting and named Tillman chairwoman.

The commission met 12 times between Dec. 20, 2016 and June 6 and held a public hearing to craft and refine the regulations and merit-based selection process.

During a Jan. 3 meeting, they set the financial guidelines requiring applicants to prove $1 million in assets — or have a $1 million bond — and $500,000 in cash liquidity. Cultivators who are approved for a license pay a $100,000 annual fee to operate. Commissioners Story and Roman introduced and seconded most of the motions related to fees and financial requirements.

Cultivator Costs

minimum assets, cash liquidity, annual licensing fee, application fee

Dispensary Costs

application fee, initial licensing fee, minimum assets, cash liquidity

During a Jan. 26 meeting, commissioner Story introduced the idea of dividing the state into eight zones, rather than the previously-discussed five zones designated by the Department of Health. The commissioners evaluated how many people live in each of the five public health zones and decided to break up the more populous regions to better serve the public. Arkansas has eight Medical Marijuana Dispensary Zones — 5 cultivation and 32 dispensary licenses will be awarded for each zone.

The final grading rubrics for cultivation and dispensary applications were settled during the commission’s final meeting of the season on June 6.

Cultivation Applications

operations plan, business plan, estimated timeline, financial disclosure, qualification of applicant, ability to operate a compliant facility, manufacturing plan, cultivation facility, security and storage, packaging, transportation, bonus merit section, doctor affiliation, economic impact, diversity, community benefit

The cultivator and dispensary applications are very thorough. For a deep dive into what’s being asked of cultivator and dispensary applicants, check out the 38-page “Rules and Regulations Governing the Application for, Issuance, and Renewal of Licenses for Medical Marijuana Cultivation Facilities and Dispensaries in Arkansas.”  

Cultivator and Dispensary applicants alike must be over the age of 21, and 60% of the ownership must have maintained Arkansas residency for seven consecutive years. Applicants are restricted from holding multiple licenses and can’t have previously held a marijuana license that had been revoked. As with other medical marijuana states, applicants will be rejected if they have been convicted of a felony or are delinquent on their state taxes. The 27-page application for cultivators and 23-page application for dispensaries includes sections to prove compliance with the requirements and provide supporting documentation for qualifications, including detailed business plans, proposed locations, proof of financial capability and more.

“The commissioners all have to read and grade the applications,” David Couch, Little Rock attorney and acting executive director of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Association told Marijuana.com. “It’s going to take several months to evaluate those. They’re volunteers with real jobs so the review period might take a while.”

The commissioners can’t begin the evaluation process until the background checks are completed, which could take up to 30 days. So, while we wait, let’s get to know your committee.

Dr. Rhonda Henry-Tillman, M.D. is a breast cancer surgeon with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and professor for the Department of Surgery. She is co-director of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute’s Cancer Control and Population Sciences. Dr. Henry-Tillman studied medicine at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and served her surgical residency at UAMS. Throughout her career, Dr. Henry-Tillman received many accolades for her research and work on breast cancer treatment and other cancer-related issues. She was awarded a Community Health Research Leadership Award from the National Cancer Institute and has received recognition in excellence from the American Cancer Society. She’s a member of the American Society of Breast Surgeons and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. When asked by a reporter during the commission’s Dec. 12 meeting whether she voted for Issue 6, she declined to answer but emphasized her commitment to “carry out the intent of the voter.”

Dr. Stephen J. Carrol, PharmD, is the Chief Operations Officer for Allcare Correctional Pharmacy. He developed an automated process to determine what alternative medications may be covered by insurance if the prescribed medication isn’t covered by Medicare Part D. He also created an inventory control system for pharmacies. He is an advisory board member for McKesson, Long Term Care, the National Community Pharmacists Association and District 6 President of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association. During the development of Issue 6 regulations, he was a vocal proponent for clear packaging and dosing information.

Travis W. Story is a Northwest Arkansas attorney with deep family roots in the state. At 18, he created Pinnacle One Productions, LLC, which he uses to create political campaign commercials and church advertisements. He attended the University of Arkansas and obtained his degree in business with a focus on small business management before studying law at the Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Virginia. In 2009, he launched the Story Law Firm, PLLC and focused his efforts on bankruptcy, civil and property law, business and estate planning, and church law. His firm may be recognizable for their representation of the Duggar Family, whose legal battles were thrust into the public eye over the past couple of years. He also challenged the City of Fayetteville’s Uniform Civil Rights Protection Ordinance in 2015, and successfully argued before the Arkansas State Supreme Court in February 2017 that the ordinance violates an existing statute that bars local municipalities from enacting their own laws with regard to discrimination and civil rights. He introduced the idea of breaking up the state into eight medical marijuana zones rather than the Department of Health’s five.

James Miller is no stranger to Arkansas politics. He is a registered lobbyist with the state and served as an aide to Sen. Dismang from October 2014 to June 2015. Miller received a $90,000 annual salary for his work in that role. During his time in the Secretary of State’s office, Miller interacted regularly with government officials as Special Projects Coordinator for Legislative Affairs. In 2006, he served as District Coordinator for the 4th Congressional District and helped manage former Gov. Mike Beebe’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. He has also served as Assistant Treasurer to both former Arkansas State Treasurers Jimmie Lou Fisher and Gus Wingfield. He has a reputation for working effectively with both sides of the Statehouse aisle, serving in positions for both Republicans and Democrats. He left Arkansas politics in 2015 to launch his firm James Miller & Associates in 2014

Carlos Roman M.D., is an anesthesiologist with a specialty in Pain Management. Dr. Roman served his residency at Tulane University and received his education from the University of Arkansas College of Medicine. He has been active in the pain management community as a voice for increased awareness of prescription drug issues and an advocate for better regulations. He wrote about the opioid issue in a 2014 newsletter for the Arkansas State Medical Board and was recognized as one of Becker’s ASC Review’s 101 Physician leaders to know in the ASC Industry in 2014.  He is a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists and Anesthesia Political Action Committee. While he has expressed concern in the past about the lack of scientific evidence for the medical benefits of cannabis, he played an active role in the development of Arkansas’ current cultivation and retail regulations.

Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett



 

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