LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Natural State is weeding out a high number of applicants for limited spots in the budding medical marijuana business.
The Alcoholic Beverage Control received a total of 322 submissions for the state's five cultivation facility and 32 dispensary licenses.
"We knew people would wait until the last day but 200 different applications in the last day? That is not something we had in mind," said Scott Hardin, the ABC spokesperson. "When people were sleeping outside in lawn chairs overnight, that was a pretty good indication that it was going to be busy. You normally don't see people fighting to get into government buildings in the morning."
Hardin said 224 applications were to sell medical marijuana while 98 were to grow.
The total application fees came to $3.15 million, $1.68 million for dispensaries and $1.47 million for cultivation facilities.
Hardin said the 285 unsuccessful candidates will receive half of their application fee back from ABC, which comes to a $1.41 million refund.
The state treasury will ultimately get about $1.6 million from the application process, which will go to multiple agencies, including ABC for the salaries of its six new enforcement officers who will oversee the medical marijuana program.
Hardin said the most surprising part about the application process was the paperwork.
The Medical Marijuana Commission set a 25-page limit on applications but allowed an unlimited amount of addendums.
Hardin said the shortest application was 400 pages while the longest came to 3,000. The 322 applications total nearly 300,000 pages, which we found would take 417 days to read at two minutes per page.
However, the five commissioners are only required to read the first 25 pages of every application, which would take about 11 days.
"Although the expectation, I think you'll have the commissioners really taking a pretty deep look into these things," Hardin said. "I certainly think the additional information will be helpful."
Before the commissioners can review and score the applications, ABC has to weed out the ones that don't pass the federal background check or meet the residency requirement of 60 percent of ownership from Arkansans.
"They may not receive the applications until early November," Hardin said.
Even though the five commissioners will still have their day jobs, Hardin expects them to announce the winners in time for Christmas.
"We're going to do it right," he said. "Then we'll award the licenses hopefully before the end of the year."
Gov. Asa Hutchinson also weighed in on the medical marijuana application process during a press conference Tuesday.
The governor said he wouldn't encourage lawmaker participation or be wild about a dispensary in the capital city. He added he definitely wouldn't want anyone on his staff to be involved.
Hutchinson called the $1.6 million from the application process to the state money well spent.
"You've got to remember I advanced with rainy day funds, I think a couple million dollars, in order to jump-start the regulatory side of the medical marijuana initiative," he said. "So at some point, I trust those funds would be reimbursed, but the priority for the funds are to support the agencies involved in regulating marijuana."
Nearly 20 doctors across the state are currently writing patient certifications. The Arkansas Department of Health has approved 1,182 patients to purchase medical marijuana.
One Arkansas bank, who wishes to remain anonymous, is working to meet the federal and state guidelines to do business with future licensees.
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