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Arkansas judge puts hold on latest marijuana dispensary license

The restraining order says the state's rules for doling out dispensary licenses are "arbitrary and capricious."

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A circuit court judge voided the first license to sell medical marijuana given to a company outside the original 32 dispensary owners as part of a lawsuit by a company who says they should have been gotten the license.

"We think the state isn't following its rules and the state has held on to money we think it shouldn't have," said Chris Burks, an attorney for Medicanna, LLC, a Pine Bluff company owned by Elizabeth Parker.

Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen agreed and issued a temporary restraining order against the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, though the board has already granted a license to Nature's Herbs and Wellness.

Medicanna just missed getting a dispensary license in the Pine Bluff-area called zone 7, but in the four years since medical marijuana became legal, they held out hope they would eventually score one.

"My clients and a lot of people around the state have spent money on that expectation. They're entrepreneurs. They want to serve patients. They want to be treated fairly by the government," Burks said.

Burks contends that when Medicanna lost the first round, the government was obligated to return half of its $7,500 application fees. But the state says applicants were told they could ask for that money back, but that would alter their application status.

"Once you do that, you'll no longer be considered active," said Scott Hardin, spokesperson for the Medical Marijuana Commission. "That's where the dispute is in this scenario."

An inactive application means you can't get a license and you forfeit your place in line. Hardin said applicants could extend their application with the state for two years.

When the commission got around to replacing some of the original 32 applicants, Medicanna got passed by Nature's Herbs and Wellness even though they had scored lower in the initial grading process.

"That company, Nature's Herbs and Wellness, has paid the $15,000 licensing fee. They've posted the $100,000 bond. And they've been formally licensed since February 3rd," said Hardin.

But Burks and Judge Griffen focused on the part of the process that said the state "shall" return fees to applicants who didn't get an initial license.

"What the state did is they didn't give half of it back to everybody," said Burks. "They just picked winners and losers. They gave half of it back to some people. Didn't give half of it back to the other."

And Judge Griffen called that an arbitrary and capricious process. He issued the order that would prevent Nature's Herbs and Wellness from opening, though Hardin says that isn't going to happen anytime soon. All parties are due back in court March 3 and the commission meets again March 11.

RELATED: First medical marijuana dispensary opens in Little Rock

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