A sign with a green cross directs customers to the entrance of The Health Center, a cannabis dispensary in Denver. (Vince Chandler, The Denver Post)

Marijuana cultivation groups await Arkansas license reveal

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission plans to announce the first five groups that will be allowed to legally grow medical cannabis, but potential growers don’t know what to make of the reveal.

The commission is expected to announce the groups on Tuesday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The reveal is a major step toward getting the drug to qualifying patients after residents approved a state constitutional amendment in 2016 that legalizes medical cannabis.

UPDATE: Arkansas names five companies permitted to grow medical marijuana

The medical marijuana community’s excitement is tempered by uncertainty after the state Supreme Court ruled last month that Arkansas and its agencies can’t be sued in state court, casting doubt on legal options for unsuccessful applicants.

Commissioners reviewed 95 applications for growing centers. The cost just to submit an application is $15,000 and those who get licenses will owe an additional $100,000.

Some applicants whose proposals didn’t meet minimum requirements or who withdrew from consideration early will receive a full refund. Bidders with scores outside the top five will be refunded half the cost of the application fee.

With so much invested, losing applicants were expected to file legal challenges after the commission’s Tuesday announcement as last-ditch efforts to get one of the five growing licenses. But the state high court’s ruling in January cemented the constitutional principle of sovereign immunity.

“It’s just another curveball,” said Alex Gray, an attorney for a firm that represents the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Association. “I think some people will still try to appeal.”

Gray is part of a group trying to get a measure on the November ballot that would amend the state constitution to allow the General Assembly to waive sovereign immunity in some cases.

The Arkansas Health Department reports already approving more than 4,000 applications for registry identification cards for patients with qualifying conditions. Cards will be distributed a month before dispensaries open.

Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette