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Arkansas medical marijuana firms fight letter's secrecy

High court lets lawyers see document; clients in the dark

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State attorneys should not be allowed to submit a secret letter in the dispute over Arkansas' medical marijuana program, companies on both sides of the litigation said Wednesday.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked the Arkansas Supreme Court in a Tuesday motion to let her file a document to the court under seal "for reasons that will be apparent on the face of the tendered letter."

Her request came less than 48 hours before the parties are scheduled to take part in today's oral arguments before the high court. Justices will hear arguments in an appeal of a lower-court ruling that rejected the process under which a state commission approved permits to grow the drug.

In an unusual order, the court on Wednesday allowed the letter to be distributed to the counsel of record for each party in the case, but it barred those attorneys from sharing the letter with anyone else, even their own clients.

The court's order was entered at 10:46 a.m. Wednesday, and it gave attorneys until 4:30 p.m. to argue whether the document should remain secret.

Naturalis Health, the lead plaintiff in the case, said in its response that the document should be made public.

[DOCUMENTS: Read complaints filed + winning applications from top five growers]

"In the interests of transparency and full disclosure, Naturalis believes the document tendered by the Attorney General's Office should be filed of record and subject to inspection by the general public," an attorney for the company wrote.

The court, as of Wednesday evening, had not ruled on the matter.

Naturalis, which applied unsuccessfully for one of the state's first medical marijuana growing permits, sued the state in March, alleging flaws in the process for ranking the 95 cultivation license applications.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen sided with Naturalis, halting the process for licensing the state's first cannabis growers and sellers.

The case made its way to the Arkansas Supreme Court after Rutledge appealed Griffen's decision. Eleven other medical marijuana companies -- four that scored high enough to receive growing permits and seven that scored outside the top five -- intervened in Naturalis' suit.

Four of the five companies that stood to receive a cannabis cultivation license have defended the licensing process alongside the attorney general's office, but their arguments have at times been at odds with the pleadings of state attorneys.

So it was on Wednesday when three of those companies, in a joint response, opposed Rutledge's request to submit the letter under seal. Natural State Wellness Enterprises, Delta Medical Cannabis Co. and Bold Team argued that the time to submit new records has passed.

"Offering information outside of the record to the Court for its consideration is improper," the response reads. The response came before the court's Wednesday morning order, but the companies didn't submit a supplemental response afterward.

One other company, Natural State Agronomics, which unsuccessfully applied for a growing permit, responded to the state's motion, but its response was sealed, a court clerk said Wednesday afternoon.

Joshua Silverstein, a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, said that proceedings like these are uncommon but not unheard of. Withholding sealed records from clients occurs most frequently in antitrust litigation that pits competitors against one another. Information that could give one company a competitive advantage is often privileged, Silverstein said.

However, this case, he said, is different because the state is the moving party, not a "competitor."

Ever since the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission announced the top five growing applicants, unsubstantiated rumors about commissioners, applicants and state regulators have bounced around the medical marijuana community.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, speculation about the contents of the attorney general's letter swirled, but attorneys in the industry were reluctant to speak on the record.

Oral arguments are scheduled for this morning, and the court is expected to rule on Griffen's decision by the end of the month. At that point, officials expect to have a clearer picture of when the drug, which must be grown in the state, will be available in Arkansas. Voters legalized medical marijuana in a constitutional amendment approved in November 2016, and the state has been working since then to license growers and dispensaries.

The state Department of Health has approved more than 4,000 applications for registry ID cards that would allow patients with one of 18 qualifying conditions to purchase the drug, which will be sold at 32 dispensaries around the state.

A Section on 06/07/2018

Comments

Illinoisroy says...

Afraid of transparency?

Posted 7 June 2018, 7:49 a.m. Suggest removal

JPRoland says...

Again, the patients going through chemo, living with Parkinson's and seizing from Epilepsy wait. if Leslie Rutledge sat through a few severe seizure episodes or had to live like some of us with diseases or conditions that benefit from the calming effects of cannabis, she would be more compassionate. It is beginning to look like what Leslie Rutledge says is more important than the vote. This lady has to be controlled because this is wrong.

Posted 7 June 2018, 7:59 a.m. Suggest removal

GOHOGS19 says...

JPRoland read up on this - Judge Griffen is to blame for the delays, not the Attorney General.

Posted 7 June 2018, 8:13 a.m. Suggest removal

LRAttorneyCrime says...

GoHogs...You need to read up on this. Judge Griffen followed the law, because there is no doubt that there is the "appearance of bias" with Story and Roman and the way they scored the applications. The Judge told the MMC to continue processing applications, but in an unbiased way. The state is the one delaying with the appeals, even when this is not a final decision.

Posted 7 June 2018, 8:18 a.m. Suggest removal

BEARTRAP919 says...

When Crappy People are Elected to Public Office, You get Crappy Results, Nuff Sed Fred

Posted 7 June 2018, 9:17 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

Everyone thinks that making marijuana legal will get rid of the big "back alley " money that is now being made.

All that making it legal does....money wise......is instead of the "back alley" the big $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ is now being made by white collar investors ( doctors and lawyers)

Amazing how changing the terminology from " marijuana"/"pot" to "cannabis " can make a huge difference on who profits $$$$$$$$$$$$$

Posted 7 June 2018, 9:28 a.m. Suggest removal

eaglescout says...

General Mac nailed it. Public service is no longer that, but a way to enrich the old pocketbook. This whole mess is a perfect example.

Bear trap, you are also right on. May not be crappy when elected, but sure tempted shortly thereafter.

Posted 7 June 2018, 10:19 a.m. Suggest removal

TravisBickle says...

As usual just follow the money.

Posted 7 June 2018, 10:21 a.m. Suggest removal

dunk7474 says...

Remember to vote AGAINST Leslie and Asa in the next election.

Posted 7 June 2018, 10:22 a.m. Suggest removal

joedog says...

GeneralMac, are you trying to make a point? Are you a budding conspiracy theorist? That field is already over crowded. Usually, and again today, you are off the mark with your commentary. What are you talking about?You should change your handle to CaptainCrunch.

Posted 7 June 2018, 10:24 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

JOEDOG...........trouble with comprehending what you read ?

Or maybe you are one of those white collar investors who hope to make a killing $$$$$$$$$$$$ off the "cannabis " .

Posted 7 June 2018, 11:21 a.m. Suggest removal

TravisBickle says...

I don't know if they know it but while these pikers are trying to line their pockets and their friend's pockets, there's a pipeline running from Colorado to Arkansas. Bringing in tens of thousands of dollars of "cannibis," edibles, oils, etc.

Posted 7 June 2018, 11:36 a.m. Suggest removal

Arkie2017 says...

The reasons most likely being partisan that would also be unpopular with the general public I would assume.

Posted 7 June 2018, 12:02 p.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

If the "cannabis" is soooo good for you, why even regulate it ?

Since there is no downside from the " healthful cannabis" make it legal and let ANYONE grow and sell it.

Treat it like healthful , homegrown vegetables at the farmers markets.

You don't have the govt regulating WHO can grow vegetables for the farmers market nor is there any special tax besides income tax that should be reported by the grower/seller.

Any time you devise a system with huge profits, like we have now, corruption runs wild $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

Legalize the " healthful cannabis" and let the free market system rule........like it does now with vegetables at the farmers market.

Posted 7 June 2018, 3:36 p.m. Suggest removal

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