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Marijuana Public Hearing Brings Out-Of-State Concerns

Bobby Ampezzan
Arkansas Public Media

Sara Gullickson flew in from Arizona to voice her concerns at the Medical Marijuana Commission's first public hearing today in Little Rock.

"I really, really strongly urge Arkansas to consider for the dispensaries running a merit based program instead of a lottery based program. Lottery based programs definitely breed litigation, program delays, and really don’t set the state up for success."

This public hearing, more than the commission meetings to date inside the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division conference room on the 5th floor of 1515 W. 7th St., revealed the diversity of business interests in the nascent enterprise. Nic Easley, a partner at Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting, flew in from Denver to urge the commission to consider pesticide regulation — and a range of other matters that may have seemedfar afield to many in the audience.

Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media
Arkansas Public Media
Nic Easley of 3C consulting in Denver warns the commission to consider pesticide use thresholds.

The five medical marijuana commissioners sat inside the lecture hall at the Bowen School of Law in Little Rock and said nothing. This was strictly an opportunity for the public to voice its concerns and suggestions, and about 200 showed up. Many were lawyers. Some, like Arkansans Melissa Fults, Gene Remley and Storm Nolan, have had their eyes on the prize for a while.

Dozens of emails have already come into the commission and the Department of Finance and Administration that largely coordinates its efforts. Many, like Gullickson, abjure the commission's decision to pick the 32 dispensary licenses by lottery (an application process that includes background checks, a four-figure fee and appropriate paperwork precede entry into the lottery). 

"I’ve been in the industry for seven years," Gullickson said after, "and I’ve seen a lot of programs that weren’t set up for success, so the entrepreneurs sitting in that room deserve the fair chance of putting their best foot forward, and for the state to pick the best candidates. In any other business venture you can pick, it would never go to a lottery."

Other concerns from the public hearing ranged from how far marijuana farms must be set back from schools or other public buildings, to how tall before considering plants "mature" to how to even obtain the seeds legally. In light of these concerns, Alisha Whitmore’s query seemed far ranging, even sociological.

"Will the commission consider awarding merit points for minority owned cultivation centers with the goal of trying to increase job availability in the minority areas?" she asked.

Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media
Arkansas Public Media
Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration lawyer Joel DiPippa (foreground) and marijuana amendment author David Couch (background, blue-checked shirt).

African Americans suffer a higher percentage of the qualifying conditions than do other races, she pointed out.

And, "this will help with the economic stimulus."

According to the commission’s own timeline, a finalized version of the commission’s rules and regulations for medical marijuana licensing is expected in May. 

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

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