Judge Tosses Arkansas Medical Marijuana Growing Licensing Process

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen on Wednesday declared the state Medical Marijuana Commission’s process of scoring and awarding Arkansas’ first highly-prized licenses to five pot cultivators as “null and void” under the constitutional amendment approved by voters in the November 2016 election.

In his 28-page order – issued following a temporary restraining order filed March 14 preventing the regulatory panel from ratifying Arkansas’ first pot-growing licenses – Griffen took it a further step and rejected the process as requested by plantiff Naturalis Health LLC of Little Rock.

Griffen said although the court did not wish to supplant the Commission’s functions, the voter-approved Amendment 98 that legalized medical marijuana in late 2016 imposed a “great responsibility” on the state “to act diligently, fairly, and exercise their authority consistent with due process and the rule of law.”

“The duty of this and other courts is to uphold conduct that comports with that standard,” Griffen wrote. “But when, as in this instance, those agencies fail and refuse to do so, the solemn duty of this and other courts is to uphold the rule of law, declare that violations of our constitution (Amendment 98 in this instance) have occurred, and strike down agency decisions that are unconstitutional, ultra vires, occasioned by improper procedure, produced contrary to due process, and arbitrary and capricious.”

Griffen also said the licensing process and decisions of the five-person regulatory panel, along with state Alcoholic Beverage Control board and the Department of Finance & Administration, violated Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution.

“Hence, the licensing decisions and rankings rendered by the Medical Marijuana Commission must not stand, and are, hereby, declared null and void,” Griffen wrote.

DFA spokesman Scott Hardin referred all questions to the office of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, adding the Commission has not made any “next step” plans as it works through proper channels.

“We respect Judge Griffen’s decision and must refer any questions regarding this matter to the Attorney General’s Office, our legal representation,” Hardin said.

Nicole Waugh, spokeswoman for the AG’s office, said the attorney general is reviewing the circuit court’s memorandum order and discussing it with ABC Director Mary Casteel and other affected state entities.

Naturalis Health LLC of Little Rock filed the first lawsuit against the commission and other state parties on March 13 in Pulaski County Circuit Court amid a flurry of legal protests and complaints filed by several runners-up and also-rans for the state’s first batch of the highly-coveted cultivation licenses.

The commission had originally scheduled a meeting one week ago at the headquarters of the Arkansas Beverage Control (ABC) board, where the agency’s panel of five part-time commissioners were expected to ratify the scores and vote to officially accept the five applicants as the state’s first cultivators to grow and supply medical cannabis products for approved Arkansas patients or care providers.

In its complaint, Naturalis attorney Jay Bequette of Little Rock argued the commission’s licensing process had caused “a complete distrust in the newly implemented medical marijuana industry, approved by Arkansas voters, to serve the medicinal needs of qualifying Arkansans.”

“Arkansas is the first state in the south to legalize medicinal marijuana. The State has an obligation not only to plaintiff, but to its citizens, to get this right,” Bequette wrote in his 20-page pleading. “The State has a limited window of time to correct the problems outlined in this complaint. This court must act now.”