Two startups located in Little Rock and Jonesboro posted the highest scores among the nearly 200 medical marijuana dispensary applications that were unexpectedly released late Thursday afternoon by the state Medical Marijuana Commission (MMC).
The Freedom of Information document dump comes one day after the five-person MMC board, chaired by Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, postponed a highly-anticipated meeting scheduled for Wednesday to announce the dispensary scores from a pool of nearly 198 applications until new board members are seated at a rescheduled meeting on Jan. 9.
According to Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin, the dispensary scores were released in response to numerous FOIA requests concerning a recently completed review by Boston-based Public Consulting Group. Talk Business & Politics was one of the media organizations that submitted a request for the dispensary records.
Little Rock-based Acanza Health Group and dozens of potential dispensary owners across the state will now compete for the chance to bring the state’s first legal cannabis products to market sometime in the first half of 2019. Among the 198 applications submitted to PCG in October, Acanza came back with the two highest scores, posting tallies of 381.11 and 379.61, respectively. The third-highest cumulative total came from Jonesboro-based Valentine Holdings LLC, which posted a score of 371.33.
Among the top 32 scores listed today were companies that have already received one of the five licenses to open cannabis cultivation facilities and several limited liability partnerships with applications to open retail dispensaries in more than one of the eight retail zones evenly spread across the state.
For example, both Acanza and Valentine submitted separate applications to locate dispensaries in several zones across the state, ranging from Zone 1 that includes Benton, Washington, Carroll and Madison counties to Zone 7 that encompasses Jefferson and several other Mississippi Delta counties in the southeast corner of the state.
PCG was first hired by the MMC in October to take up the task of evaluating the applications that have been on hold for 15 months. Hardin stressed that scores are not final and have not been reviewed or approved by the five-person commission, which oversees regulations for the state’s fledgling medical marijuana industry.
“The scores in no way guarantee a license will be provided,” said Hardin. “Scores will be discussed at the Jan. 9 meeting of the MMC. ABC will not discuss or interpret any aspect of the scores prior to the meeting.”
However, the long-awaited report completed by Boston-based Public Consulting Group (PCG) does includes a shortlist of the highest-scoring medical marijuana retail dispensaries that will have to be approved and ratified by a newly-reconfigured MMC board early next year before the 92nd General Assembly gets underway.
Still, under the rules promulgated by DFA and the Arkansas Beverage Control Board that were enacted into law by the legislature in 2017, only up to four licenses can be approved in eight quadrants of the state. That means that the top 32 highest-scoring bids, ties and all, are in a strong position to receive one of the coveted licenses at the scheduled meeting in three weeks.