OOPS: Rep. Bob Ballinger reveals his law partner, Marijuana Commisioner Travis Story, did know ahead of time that one of his clients would be seeking to get into the marijuana business. Did he really not know it was their application for a Carroll County facility to which he gave his second-highest grade?
Hunter Field of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
added today to the haze of pollution surrounding the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission's
deliberation on cultivation permits.
He delved further into our report that Commissioner Travis Story
, a Fayetteville lawyer, had done legal work in the past for Jay Trulove
and his family, Berryville owners of the Osage Creek Cultivation
medical marijuana cultivation business that finished in the top five in the competition (and got a very high score from Story).
didn't talk to the Democrat-Gazette, as he wouldn't respond to me. But Field DID get a response from Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger
, a law partner of Story who's also done work for the Truloves. Ballinger stiffed me. But get a load of what he told the Democrat-Gazette:
On Thursday, he said that he and Story told the Truloves that the firm couldn't do any legal work for them on marijuana-related matters.
He added that he saw no problem if the firm continued representing them in unrelated matters.
Ballinger said Story has sequestered himself since medical-marijuana applications were submitted, avoiding news stories and other sources of information about the applicants.
He noted that other commissioners scored Osage Creek higher than his partner. [Story rated Osage 94.5 on a 100-point scale. One commissioner gave them a 97. One gave them a 52.5)
"If there was any undue influence, Travis [Story] would have rated them higher," he said.
The Truloves, Ballinger said, are "stalwarts of the community" and will responsibly operate their cultivation business.
I have a hard time reading this without concluding that Story and Ballinger had talked with the Truloves before
the application process. If so, Story knew they were going to attempt to get a permit. Though names and owners of permit seekers were redacted from applications the commissioners reviewed, their locations were not. Did Story not have a clue when he was marking the Osage Creek application for Carroll County that this was his old friend the Truloves?
Perhaps not. It is well past time for commissioners to answer some questions, including about Field's report of Story's late completion of grading. And there is still the matter of Dr. Carlos Roman's outlier of a score for Natural State Medicinals
, 20 points better than he gave all the other applicants. The Democrat-Gazette today highlighted the scoring grid for the top applicants and it graphically represents that divergence.
Many more permits and many more opportunities for potential conflicts exist in judging the hundreds of applications for 32 dispensary permits. Among questions already pending are whether any of the commissioners have relatives involved in applications.
I gotta love that the story quotes a state official as saying appeals of decisions can be made to Circuit Court. Good luck with suing King Arkansas under recent Arkansas Supreme Court precedent. However, rumors proliferate that such a lawsuit is planned by at least one unsuccessful applicant, said to be a major source of financing for the amendment that opened the door to the award of permits.