Arkansans hoping to grow medical marijuana will have to pay a $15,000 application fee and a licensing fee yet to be determined, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission decided Tuesday.
Unsuccessful applicants will receive half the fee — $7,500 — back. The fee is the maximum allowed under the voter-approved Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment. The commission also discussed the additional annual license fee for growers but did not vote on how much that would be.
Created by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment passed by voters last month, the commission must develop the rules through which Arkansans can begin applying for cultivation and dispensary licenses by June 2017. The Legislature can extend the deadline by a two-thirds vote.
During the meeting, Commissioner Dr. Carlos Roman of Little Rock argued that application and license fees for growers should be kept as low as possible to allow for the maximum number of applications. He supported the refund plan, which was approved 4-1.
“I’d like to see some if it refundable if not all of it,” he said. “I think it would encourage more people to get involved.”
But Commissioner Travis Story of Fayetteville said growers need to demonstrate the financial wherewithal to operate a cultivation facility. His was the sole vote against the refund.
“There aren’t very many cultivators,” he said. “The last thing we want is for one of these cultivation facilities to go out of business, and so having somebody who has the wherewithal — who has the ability — to make sure they can fully perform is the important part.”
Finances dominated much of Tuesday’s meeting. According to a state Department of Finance and Administration estimate, government oversight of medical marijuana in Arkansas is expected to cost between $4 million and $6 million a year, but tax revenue to total only about $2.5 million.
That leaves fees to fill some of the gap if the program is to be self-sustaining unless the Legislature increases taxes on the sale of medical marijuana.
As with the application fee, Roman said he would prefer a low licensing fee, while Story said states like Connecticut charge more than $100,000 annually.
Ultimately, Chairman Dr. Rhonda Henry-Tillman of Little Rock said the commission needed to study the matter further before making a decision.
At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, state Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, and state Sen. Greg Standridge, R-Russellville, updated the commission on bills filed related to the medical-marijuana program.
The two are organizing such legislation in the House and Senate. House filed bills Tuesday to specify that an application for for an identification card regarding the medical-marijuana registry is not a medical record, to change the definition of “written certification” for medical marijuana and to specify how criminal-background checks should be completed under the amendment.
He has also filed proposed legislation to delay implementation of the amendment by 60 days and better define “violent felonies” that bar people from operating dispensaries and cultivation facilities.
“Anything that we can change — as a state — administratively is preferable than changing it legislatively because we only meet every two years to make corrections,” he said.
The Legislature meets biennially for regular sessions. The next session starts Jan. 9.
Also on Tuesday, the commission decided that would-be growers would receive merit points for consulting with medical professionals.
The commission had decided last week that cultivation facilities would be selected on the basis of merit instead by lottery. The decision does not apply to dispensaries.
Commissioners continued to debate whether the first five cultivation facilities should be placed in each of the public health regions or whether there should be one statewide pool.
Story argued that regional pools would be a potential detriment to quality, while Roman said the regional requirement is important to economic development across the state.
It was unclear whether a vote at an earlier meeting included a proposal to spread the applications, but Henry-Tillman said Tuesday that the commission should “stay where we are regarding geographic diversity and Commissioner Story can always bring some more to us to convince us to change.”