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Growers get word Feb. 27

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The five applicants who will be offered licenses by the state to cultivate medical marijuana will be announced on Feb. 27 by the state Medical Marijuana Commission.

Department of Finance and Authority lawyer Joel DiPippa told the commission at its meeting last week in the Alcoholic Beverage Control conference room that the members of the board will get "depersonalized" applications — applications with names removed — for cultivator licenses on Dec. 15 and can begin their scoring of the applications then. DiPippa suggested the commission score the 95 applications by Feb. 1, but Commissioner Dr. Carlos Roman said that would not give him enough time to do a good job, and commission Chairwoman Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman agreed. While the applications are 25 pages, most have hundreds of pages of attachments.

The commission settled on 4:30 p.m. Feb. 20 as a deadline to score the applications, at which point ABC staff will tabulate the scores to determine the top five scorers. Those top five will be announced at a meeting of the commission on Feb. 27. Should there be a tie for fourth place, the commissioners will be asked to independently re-review the tied applications.

Those who are not chosen will be refunded $7,500, half their application fee.

DiPippa informed the board that once the board is provided the 95 "depersonalized" cultivation applications, another set will be redacted and given to the press. DiPippa said the redacted applications, while they would not reveal Social Security or banking information, would include applicant names. Roman objected, saying public release of names to the media would compromise the anonymity of the applicants and possibly confer an advantage on some of the competitors. DiPippa, who said he'd had 80 requests for the applications under the state Freedom of Information Act, responded that he was still looking into case law on how to comply with the FOI.

After the meeting, however, DiPippa cited to media representatives a portion of the FOIA law that says the public may be denied information that may give a competitive advantage. So it appears the public will not know who has applied for a cultivator license until Feb. 27, which contradicts what the Times published in last week's Cannabiz column.

DiPippa said the 227 dispensary applications should be ready for tabulation in late April.

DiPippa also advised the commission to make known those who will be offered dispensary licenses all at one time, rather than zone by zone. (There are eight zones.) State law says that no one may own more than one dispensary; by considering all zones at once, the commission will avoid running afoul of that law, DiPippa said.

The board also agreed to allow applications from persons whose felony background checks were delayed through no fault of their own and caused them to miss an application deadline.

A Little Rock-based financial tech company has announced a partnership that will provide electronic payments and banking services to the medical cannabis industry in Arkansas. In a press release, MediPays said their "closed-loop, cashless payment system" will be available to patients and cannabis-related businesses statewide, allowing transactions by and between patients, dispensaries, cannabis cultivators and cannabis processors. "Banking has been a difficult issue for marijuana-related businesses nationwide, with most being forced to transact all in cash," MediPays co-founder and CEO Brian Bauer said in the release. "We'll provide these businesses with access to the bank accounts and financial services from which they are now generally excluded, and give patients a secure, cashless way to transact. The MediPays platform will also allow businesses to pay bills and vendors, manage company payroll electronically, and provides financial data and reporting to stakeholders and regulators." As has been common in behind-the-scenes discussions of how to extend banking services to the medical cannabis industry in the state, the financial institution with which MediPays is partnering remains undisclosed. Banking in other states where medical and recreational marijuana is legal has been touch and go over the years, with many banks refusing to get involved because of marijuana's classification by the federal government as a narcotic, along with the federal drug trafficking and money laundering statutes that could be applicable if the federal agencies decide to press the issue. MediPays will reportedly be based out of the Little Rock Technology Park on Main Street. Bauer has served as a program manager at the Little Rock Venture Center's Financial Tech Accelerator program. He'll be joined in the business by lawyer Dan Roda, former banker John Foley and MediPays chief technology officer Greg Ellis. MediPays will have a booth at the upcoming Ark-La-Tex Cannabis Business Expo at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock that runs through Thursday of this week. For more information, visit its website at medipays.com.

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