Hunter Field reports in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today on a surreptitiously made videotape of a March meeting between Dr. Carlos Roman, a member of the Medical Marijuana Commission, and Ken Shollmier, who'd finished out of the running in seeking to win a marijuana cultivation permit from the commission.
ARKANSAS MMC / FACEBOOK
CAUGHT ON TAPE: Dr. Carlos Roman.
Both Roman and Shollmier suggest the other was guilty of attempting undue influence. The article doesn't say how the D-G obtained the tape, but it was made without Roman's knowledge by Shollmier.
Their potential contact was first broached in July, with release by the Arkansas Supreme Court of a letter related to an investigation of an allegation of an attempted bribe of a commission member. No charges or further public releases have arisen from news of that investigation. Shollmier denied any wrongdoing at the time, but suggested he had powerful evidence in his defense.
Roman has come under attention because of granting high scores to only two applications, one of them the Shollmier-led Natural State Agronomics, which otherwise scored poorly among other commissioners and finished out of the running for the first five permits.
Roman thinks he was set up for the taping in hopes of catching him taking a bribe. No such transaction occurs. Shollmier agreed in an interview with the newspaper that he hoped to catch Roman taking a bribe. Roman said he went to the FBI after attempts were made to extort him after the March meeting. From the video of that meeting:
"I appreciate everything," Shollmier told Roman in the video. "If I owe you something, let me know."
"No sir, not at all," Roman said. "A kind word in your favor (sic) if you hear my name mentioned. You see [Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan] Dismang or something, say, 'Yeah, reappoint Dr. Roman to that commission.' You see the governor, just say, 'I think Dr. Roman is a swell guy. He ought to stay on that commission.' But that's all. That's all."
Lawsuits continue over award of the cultivation permits. Many irregularities became known after the commission decided to do all grading itself, rather than to first use an outside evaluator as is now being done in evaluating applications for marijuana dispensaries.
The Democrat-Gazette article suggests that Roman, in explaining scoring, showed Shollmier a successful cultivation application including parts not released to the public. Roman says he didn't share private information. The account also indicated that commissioners had some idea about whose applications they were grading, though the applications theoretically were redacted so that commissioners wouldn't be aware of that.
Roman also disclosed he'd met with other applicants. No rule prohibits this.
A rule to prohibit private contact between permit applicants and commissioners would prevent ill appearances such as this, however. Does Entergy meet privately with Public Service Commissioners on electric rate increase applications? I hope not.
Shollmier, the article said, also suggested money was paid to other commissioners. The Democrat-Gazette reached one, who vehemently denied it.
Whatever happens in court or with the criminal investigation, the video disclosure adds weight to a widely held view on Arkansas's startup of medical marijuana: It's a cluster****. People who could get relief from medical cannabis still are waiting almost two years after voter approval for relief amid a cloud of incompetence, confusion and corruption.
It is tempting to say that the cultivation permit process should be redone by a competent, independent authority rather than accept the scoring by politically appointed commissioners. But that would mean an unconscionable additional delay in implementation of the law.
Dr. Roman was already under fire for a high score given an applicant whose key players included people he knew well. Surely he will NOT be reappointed to the commission by Senator Dismang.