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The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission rejected the sale of two medical marijuana dispensary licenses Tuesday evening, signaling frustration with licensees attempting to sell without having made significant progress toward opening their outlets.
The five-member panel, meeting near the state Capitol, voted unanimously to reject the sale of Pine Bluff Agriceuticals near the Pine Bluff airport and Arkansas Patient Services of Warren (Bradley County).
The two transactions would have been complete changes in ownership, and Commissioner Travis Story reflected the consensus view that letting licensees who have made little progress sell their licenses just six months before renewal would be unfair to license applicants who fell just short of qualifying. “It’s frustrating when it seems that people [some dispensary licensees] haven’t even taken the first step. To sell it before renewal, it raises a fundamental fairness issue.”
Pharmacist and drugstore owner Nikki Hood and her husband, farm manager Andrew Hood, had hoped to buy Arkansas Patient Services in Warren from owners Justin Pickens and Adrian Ray. The seller in Pine Bluff would have been Michael Wilkins, who won the license in tandem with his wife, Teresa Ann Wilkins. The buyer in that deal would have been Robert Lercher, customer service chief for marijuana cultivator Bold Team LLC of Cotton Plant and husband of Bold co-owner Kyndall Lercher, who recently bought the dispensary license for a different Pine Bluff site, Pain Free RX on Mallard Loop.
Commissioners expressed sympathy for the Hoods, who had applied for a dispensary license under the name Wild Weeds of Arkansas, because they had been a part of the process from early on. But they also noted that the Hoods had withdrawn their application for a license, basically erasing that distinction.
None of the potential buyers and sellers attended the meeting, but the buyers were represented by attorney Alex Gray of the Capitol Law Group, who argued that their industry experience puts them in an excellent position to open the outlets quickly.
Ultimately, that argument did not prevail. Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, the commission chair, said she couldn’t “in good conscience” approve the dispensary sales without further consideration of how to deal with unopened dispensaries in a manner fairer to original unsuccessful applicants. The medical cannabis law also leaves a door open for eventual approval of up to eight cultivation sites and 40 dispensaries, so applicants still in the process have a great incentive to sit tight.
“Obviously, the commission is very concerned with patient care and making sure that people who have been awarded licenses start operating and using those licenses to provide care throughout the state,” Story said. “And I understand that there can be challenges, but I wish Mr. Wilkins were here to explain the delay.”
“One note… We now have sixteen dispensaries in operation and sixteen that are yet to open,” state spokesman Scott Hardin told Arkansas Business. “The two Texarkana dispensaries were the most recent to open.”
Texarkana’s second dispensary, Bloom Medicinals at 410 Realtor Ave., was scheduled to open at noon today; Red River Remedy, the other dispensary, opened last week at 4423 E Broad St.
The state granted 32 dispensary licenses a year ago, four each in eight geographic zones across Arkansas, but 16 remain unopened, and several of those have made little visible progress. Arkansans voted 54-46% in November 2016 to alter the state Constitution and allow marijuana production and sales to licensed patients diagnosed with one or more of 18 qualifying medical conditions. So far, about 35,000 patients have cards, and three of five cannabis cultivation licensees are operating.