A brief overview of the formation and early years of Arkansas' medical marijuana industry. Depositions in a medical marijuana lawsuit shed more light on the state's process for awarding medical marijuana licenses.
Voters are deciding now whether to approve an amendment that would allow existing medical marijuana businesses access to the production and sale of recreational marijuana.
November 2016 - Seeds of an Industry
Arkansans vote 53% in favor of a constitutional amendment to legalize medicinal marijuana in Arkansas, Amendment 98. Passage spurs a rush to acquire cultivation and dispensary licenses from the state through a newly formed Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, which goes on to award eight cultivation licenses and 38 dispensary licenses.
December 2016 - The Commish
Gov. Asa Hutchinson and legislative leaders name the state’s first medical marijuana commissioners: Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman of Little Rock, Dr. Stephen J. Carroll of Benton, attorney Travis W. Story of Fayetteville, Dr. J. Carlos Roman of Little Rock and James Miller of Bryant, a lobbyist and former legislative chief for Gov. Mike Beebe (see photo above).
June 2017 - 3,000-Page Applications
The state starts accepting applications for cultivation and dispensary licenses, setting a deadline for all documents to be hand-delivered to the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. The ABC, which enforces rules on alcohol sales in the state, is charged with investigating potential cannabis sites and enforcing the rules set for them. The applications run from 400 to 3,000 pages.
February 2018 - The Starting Five
The commission names five applicants to receive cultivation licenses after they pay a $100,000 licensing fee and $500,000 performance bond. They are Natural State Medicinals Cultivation of White Hall, Bold Team LLC of Cotton Plant, Natural State Wellness Enterprises of Newport, Osage Creek Cultivation of Berryville and Delta Medical Cannabis Co. of Newport. Natural State Wellness is later sold to Good Day Farm LLC, which moves the operation to Pine Bluff.
March 2018 - Suits of Every Color
Naturalis Health LLC sues the state marijuana regulators, joining an avalanche of litigation casting the licensing process as capricious. A Pulaski County judge rules for Naturalis, whose managing member is Jackson T. Stephens III, a grandson of the late billionaire financier Jack Stephens. The suit alleges conflicts of interest involving commissioners Story and Roman. Story’s firm had represented Osage Creek’s owners in unrelated legal matters; Roman had referred a tiny fraction of patients to one of Natural State’s owners, Dr. Scott Schlesinger. Roman says Natural State simply submitted a superior application, and he defends the commission’s integrity: “There have been no shenanigans.”
February 2019 - Outlets and Investigations
Arkansas announces the full initial lineup of licensees: 32 dispensaries and the five chosen cultivators across the state. DF&A spokesman Scott Hardin says the last of the licensees have paid their fees and posted performance bonds. “Additionally, ABC’s Enforcement Division continues to investigate protest letters,” he says, adding that ABC Director Doralee Chandler will release decisions as investigations are completed.
May 2019 - Retail Rollout
Legal marijuana sales finally arrive in Arkansas in a $100,000 opening weekend at the state’s first two medical cannabis dispensaries, both in Hot Springs. Patients line up to buy $15-a-gram cannabis at Doctors Orders RX and Green Springs Medical, which together sell about 15 pounds of marijuana on the opening weekend of sales.
July 2020 - The Last to Grow
The state grants licenses to the last three of eight cultivators authorized by the medical cannabis amendment: River Valley Relief Cultivation in Fort Smith, led by Storm Nolan; Carpenter Farms Medical Group LLC of Grady, led by Abraham Carpenter Jr.; and New Day Cultivation of Hot Springs, owned primarily by Carla McCord. The Carpenter Farms license is granted as part of a legal settlement after it sues, arguing its application had been unfairly denied because of a minor “scrivener’s error.” (See sidebar.) New Day now does business as Leafology.
July 2021 - Lawsuit of the Moment
2600 Holdings LLC of Little Rock, doing business as Southern Roots Cultivation, files suit in Pulaski County challenging the state’s licensing of River Valley Relief Cultivation, seeking the license it claims it was entitled to. Defendants are DF&A, the ABC Division and the Medical Marijuana Commission. The suit focuses on River Valley’s documentation in the licensing process.
September/October 2022 - Revealing Depositions
Several figures in Arkansas’ medical marijuana licensing dispute are deposed, including the current and former chairs of the commission and ABC Director Chandler. The depositions reveal that the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated bribery allegations and other reported irregularities in the process. They also show that even the current commission chairman, James Miller, considered facets of the process unfair in retrospect.