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THE YCEO: Trouble In Arkansas: Judge Throws Out Medical Marijuana Licenses

Arkansas voters approved medical marijuana but old-fashioned favoritism by regulators who ignored the rules has stymied the program.

A judge in Arkansas has ruled that the state commission assigned to award licenses for growing legal medical marijuana awarded the contracts in an unfair manner. It’s led to a legal quagmire in Arkansas, one of only two southern states to legalize medical marijuana. For practical purposes, it’s left Arkansans who want to try medical marijuana out of luck for the foreseeable future.

In his decision, Judge Wendell Griffen barred the state Medical Marijuana Commission from issuing any licenses until the situation is sorted out. That may take some time, as Griffen found the commission was biased and did not follow the proper rules when it awarded five contracts to grow marijuana.

“The Court takes no joy in reaching or declaring this conclusion, nor should anyone else treat the conclusion as anything other than disappointing and sobering,” the judge wrote.

An Exception In The South
Arkansas voters approved legal medical marijuana in November 2016. The state is allowing its use only for specific medical conditions, including multiple sclerosis and to combat the pain and discomfort of cancer treatments. Voters in Arkansas passed medical marijuana legalization by 53 percent.

The state would allow patients to only use marijuana grown in Arkansas. So far, more than 4,700 people have applied to the program, which will require issuance of a state card. Arkansas and Louisiana are the only two states in the South to approve medical marijuana (unless you count Florida as a southern state).

Essentially, the two states are an island of marijuana legalization in the middle of a large swath where marijuana is not legal for any purpose, medical or recreational. That includes Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.

Rule Of Law Violated
Griffen, who issued a 28-page order, was ruling on a lawsuit filed by an unsuccessful applicant who wanted to grow marijuana in the Natural State. The lawsuit charged that the application process contained scoring irregularities, bias, conflicts of interest and violation of rules.

Griffen, on the whole, saw it that way, too. He said the process did not respect the rule of law. He stopped the awarding of the five contracts, which was supposed to happen in March. The five applicants had paid $100,000 in fees to apply and put up a $500,000 bond.

The state can appeal the decision, but even marijuana advocates don’t want that. David Couch, the Little Rock attorney who helped get medical marijuana legalized, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette he wanted the state just to restart the application process.

That way, medical marijuana patients could legally get cannabis faster, Couch said. Even Griffen noted that no matter what the state chooses to do, the fact that Arkansans will now have to wait even longer for access to medical marijuana “should be unpleasant to anyone concerned about providing relief to people who suffer from serious illnesses."


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