Wednesday, June 6, 2018
State attorneys on Tuesday asked the Arkansas Supreme Court for permission to submit a letter under seal in the case challenging the rollout of Arkansas' medical marijuana program.
The case, an appeal of a circuit court ruling that struck down the state's process for awarding cannabis-growing licenses, is scheduled for oral arguments Thursday.
"For reasons that will be apparent on the face of the tendered letter, there is good cause for filing it under seal," Solicitor General Lee Rudofsky wrote in the motion. The motion asked that aside from the court, only the counsel of record for each party receive the letter and that they be barred from sharing it.
A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge declined to discuss the matter Tuesday evening except to say that state attorneys had not yet heard back from the court.
Attorneys both in and outside the medical marijuana community on Tuesday were surprised by the motion, and they were hesitant to comment.
Jay Bequette, an attorney for Naturalis Health, which sued the state over the licensing process, said he was unaware of what the letter says and had no comment.
Other attorneys said that any comment they could offer would be pure speculation.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen in March said the state's permitting process was unconstitutional, and he granted Naturalis' request to stop the licensing process.
The state and four of the five companies that had the top-ranked medical marijuana cultivation applications have argued that Griffen should have dismissed the suit and that the matter didn't fall under his court's jurisdiction.
The five-member Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission in February revealed its scoring of 95 cultivation facility applications, selecting applicants that planned to operate in Jackson, Jefferson, Carroll and Woodruff counties.
State Alcoholic Beverage Control Division staff members reviewed applications to ensure each included all the required details before redacting personal information to remove bias from the ranking process.
Griffen agreed with Naturalis that two of the commissioners' relationships with owners of two winning applicants created the appearance of bias.
He also ruled that state regulators failed to independently verify that each winning facility would be located at least 3,000 feet from any church, school or day care center.
The litigation has stalled the debut of legal cannabis into the Arkansas marketplace, and the commission stopped reviewing applications for medical marijuana dispensaries.
Arkansans in 2016 voted to legalize the drug, approving Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution.
The Arkansas Department of Health has approved well over 4,000 patients for medical marijuana registry ID cards. Those patients were certified by physicians to have one of the qualifying conditions that would entitle a patient to purchase medical marijuana from a dispensary.
Patient advocates say that many more patients will apply for the cards once the drug's introduction is imminent. The Health Department plans to distribute the cards before the first dispensary opens.
The commission plans to offer five growing permits and 32 dispensary licenses. The law requires that medical marijuana be grown and processed in the state.
Metro on 06/06/2018
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