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Author Of Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment Calls For Overhaul Of Grower Selection Process


Amidst more revelations of problems tied to Arkansas’s nascent medical marijuana program, the architect of the state’s voter-approved amendment is calling for commissioners to abandon their process of scoring cultivation applications.

Attorney David Couch says the merit-based scoring system has been plagued with allegations that have rocked public confidence in the process.

"I think we should just go back and do a lottery, and I would do a lottery on dispensaries too. Grade them, not for scoring, but to see if they’re qualified and put them in a hat and draw it," said Couch.

"I kind of owe Governor Hutchinson an apology. At the beginning of this process, he wanted to do a lottery. I wrote the amendment, I put this process in here. I thought it would be fair, open and transparent and it would be as free as it could be from allegations of corruption and conflicts of interests and different scoring grids and bribery," said Couch. "I guess he was more politically savvy than I was."

On Wednesday, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette revealed the latest problematic episode regarding the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission's scoring process. One of the top ranked applicants appears to have copied sections of its application from a competing group.

Voters approved medical marijuana in November 2016. Cultivation licenses were originally to be awarded 120 days following its passage. The Arkansas Legislature extended that to 180 days as additional rules were promulgated.

Department of Finance and Administration Spokesperson Scott Hardin says overhauling the selection process to implement a lottery would require the Medical Marijuana Commission to make major rule changes. Hardin says the Commission can’t take action of any kind until last week’s Supreme Court ruling is finalized in July.

“The current MMC rules, which were established following numerous public hearings and input, state cultivation (and dispensary) licenses will be selected through merit scoring. While a lottery was considered as the rules were developed, there was overwhelming public support for merit review. To implement a lottery would require major changes to the established rules. We can’t speculate whether this (lottery) will be considered by the MMC as this is something the Commission must address at the appropriate time. The Commission can’t take any action until last week’s Supreme Court ruling is declared final (the second week in July). At that point, the next steps will be announced.”

KUAR has reached out to Medical Marijuana Commission Chair Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman for comment but has not yet received a response.

The state's highest court recently ruled that a lower court did not have jurisdiction to halt the process of awarding licenses to the top five applicants selected by the commission.

Jacob Kauffman is a reporter and anchor for KUAR. He primarily covers the state legislature and politics beat while juggling anchoring Morning Edition Monday through Friday.