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Arkansas Medical Pot Panel Approves Rule to Allow Consultant Hire

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission unanimously approved a rule Thursday that would allow it to hire a consultant to score the state's 203 dispensary applications.

Under the law, the commission can award 32 licenses across eight zones.

Lawmakers will consider the rule change next week. 

St. Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, who authored the medical marijuana legislation, believes his colleagues will approve it. 

"If commissioners say they need help, can't argue with that," House said. "If they want to ask the kid parking cars down at the hotel to do it, that's fine, but they are still legally responsible for any decision." 

However, some commissioners are still wary of allowing someone else to determine who gets the permits. 

"It feels to me like we should be the ones to make that decision," Travis Story told his fellow commissioners. "I'm not a big rubber stamp person."

"I'm not a rubber stamp person either," commissioner James Miller responded. "But we're looking at a timeframe of four months before two of you rotate off." 

Time is of the essence. Two commissioners' terms expire in November, which marks two years since voters passed the medical marijuana amendment. 

During the meeting, a man in the crowd yelled, "Keep them in house!," but the commissioners ultimately approved the rule change that would allow them to send the applications to a third party. They also agreed there should be five scorers from different backgrounds just like them.

"If it was just one of us scoring these things then all of these fantastical lawsuits, there might be some validity to that," said Dr. Carlos Roman. "But the fact is, none of us determined who got a license. It was a group thing. Somehow that has to be replicated, in my opinion, or we're not doing justice." 

If lawmakers approve the rule change, the commission said best case scenario, it could award dispensary licenses right before Thanksgiving.

"We would get done at the same time and then we would have done it," Story said. "I don't know that we're saving any time here." 

The commission wasted no time formally awarding the cultivation licenses earlier this week as soon as an injunction blocking the process was lifted.

The top five scorers announced back in February are in the medical marijuana business, while those out have sent about a dozen protest letters to ABC.

"You cannot be less biased than this commission has been," said Dr. Rhonda Henry-Tillman, the commission's chair. "We can't even talk to each other during the review."

Some of those out of the business could eventually be in. The commission also voted to keep the current dispensary and cultivation applications active for two years in case licenses are surrendered, revoked or the state decides to open more than 32 dispensaries and five cultivation facilities. 

Roman and Story asked their fellow commissioners if they could continue scoring Zone 1 of the dispensary applications while they wait on the legislature's decision, but they voted that proposal down 3-2. 

The commission's next meeting is July 25 at 4 p.m. The members plan to review the scope of work for the consultant, pending lawmakers' approval the week prior. 

They also asked ABC for information regarding why some cultivation applications were disqualified after they scored them. 

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