In November 2016, Arkansas voters approved a medical marijuana amendment to the state constitution. The vote was very close, with 38 counties supporting the amendment and 37 counties opposing it. With this vote, Arkansas became the first state in the Bible belt to legalize medical marijuana.
The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016 directed the state to create an Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission. This five-person panel is authorized to administer and regulate the issuance of licenses to operate medical marijuana dispensary and cultivation facilities in Arkansas. On June 20, 2017, the AMMC published notice that it would begin accepting MMJ license applications on June 30 and that the application period would end on September 18, 2017.
The AMMC announced that it would award five cultivation licenses and 32 distribution licenses. Each cultivation application included a refundable $15,000 fee, while distribution applications included a refundable fee of $7500. Initially there were few applications submitted; the first one did not come arrive at the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration until August 18. However, applications skyrocketed as the deadline approached. By the time the application period had closed, the DF&A had received close to 100 cultivation license applications and over 200 distribution license applications with around 60% of the applications coming in on the very last day. More than a third of these applications came from just five counties in Arkansas.
Due to the volume of applications and the extensive process needed to review each one, the AMMC announced in October that it would not start distributing licenses until next year.
However, the Commission also flagged 16 of the 322 applications it received as missing required documentation and said that some of these applications could be rejected and the fees refunded. This led a group of applicants to file lawsuits against the AMMC alleging that the Commission had improperly rejected their applications. The plaintiffs seeks a temporary restraining order and injunction in order to keep their applications in consideration. Any litigation could slow the license rollout even further.
Also in October, the Arkansas Attorney General rejected proposed language for a 2018 ballot initiative to legalize adult-use marijuana in the state.
These developments leaves license applicants such as the Natural State Medical Group, a North Little Rock company which has already sold nearly $1 million worth of shares, in something of a limbo state. For those interested in entering the legal marijuana market in Arkansas, including the 300 license applicants, there is little to do at present but wait and see how regulation develops over the next several months.
Brendan Baker is a Research Analyst at Cannabiz Media, with responsibility for monitoring licenses and regulatory activity in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arkansas. Brendan has a history degree from Carleton College and a J.D. from Michigan Law, and brings to Cannabiz nearly a decade of experience in pharmaceutical tort litigation and legal research support. In his free time, Brendan enjoys writing fiction and music, hanging out with his Cardigan Welsh Corgi, and exploring his home of Denver, Colorado.