By Andrew DeMillo
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas regulators have stopped reviewing applications from businesses that want to sell medical marijuana, weeks after a judge struck down the state’s licensing process for growing the drug.
A spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration said Wednesday the Medical Marijuana Commission’s review of dispensary applications was halted in response to a judge preventing Arkansas from licensing businesses to grow medical marijuana. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen last month ruled that the state’s licensing process for the cultivation facilities violated a 2016 voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for patients with certain medical conditions.
“We are under an injunction that voids the method of cultivation scoring. Therefore, dispensary application review is on hold as we review the situation,” DFA spokesman Scott Hardin said in a statement.
The commission had begun reviewing some of the 227 applications it had received for dispensaries to sell marijuana to qualified patients, and the department had previously said it was evaluating its next steps on the application process. Hardin did not say how many applications had been reviewed. The commission can award up to 32 dispensary licenses.
David Couch, the attorney who wrote the medical marijuana amendment, said halting the applications’ review 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 has applied for cultivation and dispensary licenses.
Griffen last month ruled in favor of an unsuccessful applicant for a cultivation license that had challenged the commission’s decision to issue permits to five businesses. Griffen cited potential conflicts of interest by two of the commission’s five members and said the state did not verify applications’ assertions that their proposed facilities would be at least 3,000 feet from schools, churches and daycare centers, as required by the amendment.
Arkansas’ attorney general has appealed Griffen’s ruling to the state Supreme Court. In an order Wednesday denying a request by some of the successful applicants to lift his preliminary injunction, Griffen urged the commission to correct the problems with its licensing process. Griffen indicated he didn’t view his ruling against the licensing process as appealable 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.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office said it was reviewing Griffen’s latest order and considering the next steps.
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