A company hired to grade Arkansas medical marijuana dispensary applications says it can deliver scores to the state by the end of next month. But at a meeting Tuesday, the chair of the state’s Medical Marijuana Commission voiced concerns that no physicians are part of the scoring team.
Thomas Aldridge, a manager with Public Consulting Group, spoke with commissioners about the process to help decide who should get the 32 licenses for dispensaries that will be spread throughout the state. About 200 entities have submitted applications.
Having never seen one of the applications and not being sure of how the scanned applications will be organized could present some challenges, he said. But Aldridge told commissioners he was confident that each application could be scored 30 days after being delivered electronically, which the commission has said would be in about seven days.
"We'll get those applications and we will have them in a way that we can actually get them into our system and start the scoring process," Aldridge said.
PCG will make sure those judging the applications don’t have any conflicts, don’t reside in Arkansas, and have been vetted by the company’s legal compliance team, Aldridge said. He called them industry experts "who couldn’t be more qualified." He also said they would be trained so their work is consistent with what the commission is asking for of the process.
But Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, who is chair of the commission, said she was concerned that none of those on the grading team was a physician. She suggested a doctor trained in the conditions that marijuana can be used to treat was needed.
"I get very nervous about patient care, and to see the lack of support for the medical illnesses is just mindboggling to me, and this could be dangerous. I understand the business component of it, but not understanding the importance of what we’re doing from a medical perspective, someone could get hurt," Henry-Tillman said.
Aldridge said the company has physicans on staff who would be able to aid those scoring the applications.
Commissioner James Miller, who took part in the meeting by phone, asked Aldridge why the company had offered to do the work for such a low price.
"You guys bid right under $100,000," he said, "and the next person up was three times that amount. Can you explain why?"
"I can," Aldridge said. "Our firm has been talking about the medicinal marijuana business for a bit and trying to decide if we fit into it, to be quite frank with you. We do a lot of work for government agencies. It’s a process that a lot of government agencies are going through right now."
PCG primarily works with states and healthcare companies on Medicaid-related issues. Aldridge acknowledged this is essentially a trial for the company doing marijuana-related work.
"We certainly have no intentions of making a lot of money on this contract, I can assure you, but we tried to bid with very, very low margins so that we could get involved with a project and see if our skill set and our talents match up with what the states might look for with this particular marketplace," Aldridge said.
The commission then discussed how to notify those whose applications were rejected. That prompted two state representatives at the meeting, Vivian Flowers of Pine Bluff and Reginald Murdock of Marianna, to ask to speak during the meeting. After some back-and-forth among commissioners about whether to allow public comments, it was decided that should be done during a later meeting at a venue that could accommodate more people. The University of Arkansas Bowen School of Law or the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences were discussed as possible locations because a large crowd is expected.
Henry-Tillman then suggested, "we not do any other action until we’ve heard the public comment. I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s not going to change anything and we’re going to review the information."
The commission did not discuss a secretly recorded video that recently became public. It was made by an unsuccessful applicant for a cultivation license as he was meeting with Commissioner Carlos Roman who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. Roman has accused Ken Shollmier of trying to bribe and extort him. The matter is now the subject of a federal corruption investigation.