5 Marijuana Cultivation Facilities Approved by Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission

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via Talk Business & Politics

As a nervous, standing-room only crowd looked on, the state Medical Marijuana Commission (AMMC) on Tuesday (Feb. 26) selected a handful of Arkansas companies to grow and supply the state’s first legalized cannabis products to medical patients across the state.

The historic announcement took place at the state headquarters of the Arkansas Beverage Control (ABC) Board after the agency staff’s and AMMC board took pains to explain the tedious process the regulatory panel undertook to award pot-growing licenses to five Arkansas-based companies that were selected out of 95 applicants.

“This has been a long two months. It was almost not feasible,” AMMC Chair Rhonda Henry-Tillman said of the two-month long process to review, score and select the winners.

Added Commissioner Dr. Carlos Roman: “(This) was brutal.”

Following are the five companies selected to blossom the state’s newest industry from the startup stage to an expected $70 million dollar industry by 2025.

• Natural State Medicinals Cultivation in Jefferson County
• Bold Team LLC in Woodruff County
• Natural State Wellness Enterprises in Jefferson County/Jackson County
• Osage Creek Cultivation in Carroll County
• Delta Medical Cannabis Company in in Jackson County.

ABC Director Robin Casteel said while the Commission awarded five licenses, the top six scoring applications included one applicant that had two of the top five scores. That company, Natural State Wellness, will be limited to ownership stakes in only one cultivation facility and one dispensary location. That means Natural State Wellness will have to decide between operating in Jefferson or Jackson County.

Once each winning applicant receives a formal notification letter from the AMMC, they will have seven days to pay an application fee of $100,000 and post a performance bond of $500,000.

“If someone doesn’t meet those guidelines, we will notify the next applicant that they are on-deck” to receive one of the five licenses, Casteel said.

The remaining top 10 applicants include River Valley Relief Cultivation of Fort Smith, New Day Cultivation, Southern Roots, and Delta Cannabinoid Corp. Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration (DF&A) attorney Joel DiPippa said his agency and ABC staff would complete the redaction of personal information for the top 10 cultivation applicants by end of business on Wednesday.

Alex Gray, an attorney affiliated with the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Association trade group, said the process to select the state’s first cultivation centers was fair and difficult. However, he does believe there will be several groups that did not receive licenses who will appeal the Commission’s decision.

Since the Commission’s last meeting in early December, the five-person regulatory board has been sequestered away from public purview to read, review and score the applications based on a 100-point merit scoring system approved by the state legislature in May 2017.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, interest in the five cultivation facility awards was so heightened that the AMMC board had to change the forum to handle the crush of media attention and limited space in the cramped headquarters of the state Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) boardroom, which can only seat about 100 people.

Late Monday evening, DF&A spokesman Scott Hardin alerted media representatives that ABC offices would remain closed until 30 minutes before the AMMC meeting because of security and safety concerns.

“We did consider moving locations but DFA doesn’t have any larger conference rooms that could accommodate our needs,” Hardin told Talk Business & Politics, adding that the AMMC livestreamed the meeting on to handle the expected influx several hundred people planning to attend the historic meeting.

Now that the notable first five winners for the highly sought-after after pot-growing facilities have been selected, the Commission will conduct the same scoring and award process for 227 dispensary proposals that will be granted one of 32 licenses to operate up to 40 retail locations in eight quadrants of the state.

According to state DF&A officials, the AMMC’s scoring system breaks down points that applicants can earn into different sections that are focused on operating marijuana facilities in compliance with more than 24 different laws approved by lawmakers. Other sections included applicant qualifications, financial disclosure and an operations plan.

It will now likely take at least an additional two to three months for the AMMC directors to review and score the dispensary applications and then award the licenses for those retail establishments by late April or early summer, DF&A officials said.

In response to a state Freedom of Information (FOIA) request in late December, DF&A officials released the public names of all the companies applying for cultivation and dispensary licenses along with their locations. However, the names of the individual owners were redacted so not as to give any company a “competitive advantage,” Hardin said.

A review of the 322 publicly available applications shows dozens with incomplete or inaccurate information, a potential source of future litigation. As many as one-third of all cultivation and dispensary applications are missing items such as notarization, incomplete contact or registered agent data, incorrect math on percentages of ownership, insufficient financial information, inadequate proof of residency, and inaccurate answers to questions of affiliation or ownership with more than one facility, just to name a few of the errors or omissions.

Hardin said all applicants were released publicly, even if they may be summarily rejected for being incomplete or not meeting qualifications.

“At this point in the process, we are not distinguishing the applications that may not meet minimum qualifications as they are considered active until the commission votes to take formal action on them,” Hardin said. “Since September 18, 2017 — the deadline to submit an application — no applicant has been allowed to sign, supplement or adjust an application.”

As of Friday (Feb. 23), the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) had approved 4,116 applications for medical marijuana registry ID cards allowing citizens to eventually obtain Arkansas-grown, doctor-prescribed marijuana and other cannabis-related medical products. More than 250 applications are “in-process,” although cards will not be provided to patients until a month before the medial product is available, ADH officials said.

In recent weeks, concerns have been raised within legal circles and the state’s fledgling medical marijuana community about the application process for both cultivation facilities and dispensaries. Those legal concerns have been raised just as the Arkansas Supreme Court on Jan. 18 ruled that the state’s sovereign immunity law – which prohibits the state from being named as a defendant – offers blanket immunity for boards, commissions, and agencies.

The lawsuit that initiated this ruling, Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas vs. Matthew Andrews, centered on a minimum wage dispute, but there is widespread thought that the ruling could apply to Freedom of Information requests, illegal exaction cases, and certainly administrative rules and regulations.

Subsequently, Arkansas’ lower courts have been applying the sovereign immunity decision to a variety of cases, including a recent dismissal of a lawsuit by agricultural conglomerate Monsanto over a state ban on dicamba fertilizer and an Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission regulatory lawsuit involving property owners and royalties.

Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, a local attorney who spearheaded most of the state’s medical marijuana legislation in the 2017 session, thinks the state courts will allow for appeals regarding medical marijuana.

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NWA residential lot supply falls 25%, Prices for available lots rise

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The number of lots available for residential construction declined as home prices rose in the second half of 2017 in Northwest Arkansas, according to a residential real estate report. On Tuesday (Feb. 27), Fayetteville-chartered Arvest Bank released the Skyline Report for the second half of 2017 for Benton and Washington counties.

The number of available lots in active subdivisions in Northwest Arkansas fell 25.2% to a 27.3-month supply at the end of 2017, from a 36.5-month supply at the end of 2016. The 2017 level is also down 53.5% from a 58.7-month supply at the end of 2014.

The decline in available lots is leading to a rise in the price for remaining ones, and combined with construction cost increases, home prices across the region are rising, the report shows. In 2017, average home prices rose 9% to $219,876 in Washington County, from 2016, and over the past three years, the prices have risen 23%. In Benton County, average home prices increased 2.9% to $228,310, and over the past three years, the prices have increased 12.2%.

“The growing scarcity of lots for new home construction, especially in the most desirable areas near amenities, is becoming worrisome,” said Mervin Jebaraj, lead researcher for the Skyline Report and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) at the University of Arkansas. “Put simply, we need more available lots added to the pipeline, or we will begin to experience issues with higher home prices affecting housing affordability in the region.”

Construction prices have risen as a result of partially staffed construction crews. Immigrants who previously worked in construction positions left during the Great Recession and haven’t returned, Jebaraj said. A solution to the lot shortage could be to rezone existing commercial property to allow for residential or mixed-use developments, he said. Mixed-use developments with homes in close proximity to shops could help retail as the industry has been struggling.

In the second half of 2017, building permits declined 12.5% to 1,434, from 1,638 in the same period in 2016. In Benton County, building permits fell 22.8% to 804. In Washington County, building permits increased 5.7% to 630. However, compared to the first half of 2017, building permits in Washington County declined 14.7%, from 739.

By the end of 2017, the number of homes under construction in Northwest Arkansas rose 9.7% to 1,030, from the same time in 2016, and over the past three years, it’s risen 53.7%.

“As we enter the traditional home buying season, we are seeing strong interest from many customers to find the right house in the right area at the right price,” said Mark Ryan, executive vice president and loan manager for Arvest Bank. “This report’s focus on affordability, combined with recent rate increases in mortgage loans will likely lead to strong home buying throughout the area. We want our customers to know that we are prepared to help them get a jump on finding the right home loan.”

Ryan explained that typically when rates rise, sales go down. But he’s started to see those who were reluctant to buy a home making home purchases. The recent rate increases, combined with the limited supply, have created a sense of urgency to purchase a home as buyers are expecting rates to continue to rise.

The traditional home buying season is in the spring and summer months, and Ryan expects sales to rise from the second half of 2017.

In the second half of 2017, new home sales declined 4.9% to 1,497, from the same period in 2016. While home sales were down, they’ve still been “very robust,” Ryan said.

The Skyline Report tracks 371 active subdivisions in the two-county area, and within them are 1,030 homes under construction, 211 housing starts, 238 unoccupied homes and 5,571 empty lots.

Additionally, there are 6,906 residential lots that have received preliminary or final approval in Benton and Washington counties. If these lots were added to the lots from active subdivisions, there’s a 54-month supply of remaining lots at the existing rate of lot absorption. This is the lowest level since the Skyline Report started in 2004.

The biannual report looks at the most recent commercial, single-family residential and multi-family residential property in Benton and Washington counties. It is sponsored by Arvest Bank and completed by the CBER, whose researchers use data from area governments, property managers, visual inspections and business media to complete the report.

via Talk Business & Politics

Chuck Dicus, Ken Bethge Join Wilson Auctioneers

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Hot Springs-based Wilson Real Estate Auctioneers Inc. announced Monday (July 17) the hiring of Chuck Dicus as a real estate sales agent.

Dicus, who played football at the University of Arkansas, is a former president of two notable nonprofits in the state — the Razorback Foundation and the Arkansas Game & Fish Foundation. He also previously worked for commercial real estate firm Irwin Partners in Little Rock.


“The entire Wilson staff is excited that Chuck Dicus has joined our team,” company president Joe Wilson said in a news release. “Chuck is a multifaceted agent, with knowledge of the outdoors, hunting land, farms and commercial real estate. He provides more than 30 years of experience and networking with Arkansans in every corner of the state.”

Dicus will be responsible for listing real estate, farms and commercial properties for auction in Arkansas, with a focus on Northwest Arkansas.

Wilson also announced Ken Bethge has joined the firm as executive broker and closing coordinator. Bethge recently retired as senior vice president of Jefferson Title Co. in Pine Bluff.

“Ken’s experience in the title insurance business will further our commitment to providing clear transactions, 30-day closings and a direct line for our buyers and sellers to receive information for their closings,” Wilson said in the release.

Bethge, who has 45 years of experience in the real estate business, has served as secretary of the Arkansas Building Authority Council, chairman of the Jefferson County Equalization Board and chairman of the Pine Bluff Planning Commission.

via Talk Business & Politics