Each new state that enters the legal cannabis industry needs to respect the vote that made that market possible. Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission and Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s public hearings. The commission allowed experts to weigh in before submitting its final rules and regulations to the State Legislature.
The commission has stressed that it wants a safe and fair program; yet the drafted rules have raised more questions than answers. I flew into Little Rock to voice my concerns and provide better solutions. As an industry veteran, I understand first hand that medical marijuana processes are no small feat. They require due diligence, strategic planning and thinking, and transparency.
However, the lottery-based system as currently proposed in Arkansas, leaves much of the application process to chance:
MMC 27: Section V: 19(d): No later than fifteen (15) days prior to the hearing, each applicant for a new permit or his or her agent will be allowed to draw a number between one (1) and a number equal to the number of applicants having filed. The drawing will be conducted by the chairperson of the commission. Position numbers may not be assigned or transferred.
MMC 27: Section V: 19(e): The commission shall hear applications for the specified area in the order determined by the lottery draw until the designated number of licenses have been issued for the area.
Arkansas patients deserve access to the best candidates. Any other business venture or medical choice would never be determined by a lottery.
Though many adult use states like Oregon, California, and Washington State have used lottery based processes, (Washington transitioned to the merit system in 2015), it breeds litigation issues and program delays. In Arizona, the lottery system has resulted in two active lawsuits, among other disputes.
Merit-based systems, primarily associated with medical programs, have proven successful in New York, Minnesota, Nevada, Illinois, Hawaii, Maryland, and Connecticut.
They encourage quality-driven applications, and reward those with business expertise and strategy, resulting in:
- High-end and sophisticated operations as a whole.
- Competitive processes: State-published application, scoring methodology, and rubric required.
- Tested and branded product lines ensuring patient safety.
- Less litigation between applicants and state.
- Community benefits.
- Greater opportunity for economic development.
Arkansas, under a merit system, has the opportunity to make a positive economic impact with state-specific stipulations that reward applicants with business strategies designed for Arkansans. For instance:
- Facilities that fulfill the health care needs of particular rural/urban areas.
- Operations with locations near public transportation.
- Cultivation or dispensary sites that support economic development: Merit points for minority-owned facilities or hiring practices.
- Operations that support serious medical conditions of a particular region and its patient population: African-Americans suffer a higher percentage of the qualifying conditions than other races.
Other draft concerns involve the Arkansas Department of Health’s definition of a physician as stated in the ABC Rules and Regulations:
Page ABC-6: Section 3: (34) “Qualifying patient” means a person who has been diagnosed by a physician as having a qualifying medical condition and who has registered with the Department in accordance with these Rules and the Amendment.
Physicians are defined as MDs or DOs, which would restrict naturopaths from participating in the program and potentially limit patient access.
Additional restrictions may limit processors from utilizing certain herbal supplements, such as St. John’s Wart, melatonin, Vitamin C, hemp, and cannabinoid products. The language is still unclear:
Page ABC-26: Section 12: RR 12.2 (b) A cultivation facility or dispensary shall not treat or otherwise adulterate a cannabinoid product, concentrate, or extract with any non-cannabinoid additive that would increase potency, toxicity, or addictive potential, or that would create an unsafe combination, with caffeine or other chemical that may increase carcinogenicity or cardiac effects.
I provided the commission with a comprehensive draft commentary on how the rules can be updated with the structure and integrity needed to support a successful medical marijuana program. You can read the full commentary here.
As one the fastest growing industries in the U.S., I have witnessed how cannabis regulations have adapted and evolved, and so too will Arkansas’. Already, since returning from Little Rock after pleading my case, Arkansas has opted to license dispensaries based on a merit system.
The commission’s final rules and regulations are expected to be released in May, 2017.