The politics of medical marijuana in Arkansas will be an interesting story as it evolves. Could it, for example, become an issue in congressional races?
It is an issue that doesn't break as neatly along partisan lines as, say, abortion and gay rights. A group supporting legal marijuana notes today that 69 U.S. representatives are pushing legislation to ensure that federal Justice Department money cannot be used to interfere with states that have authorized some form of legal marijuana. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has threatened this. Will Arkansas's congressmen support this measure? (Not likely, we'd guess.) Will candidates running against the state's Republicans in Congress this year make it an issue? Voters of all sorts passed medical marijuana by a healthy margin in the state, after all.
And what of the licensing process? Where big money can be made, big politics normally are intertwined. Here, for example, is a tidbit worth watching: The pile of applications for licenses to either cultivate or dispense medical marijuana in Arkansas include these: Texarkana Central LLC for a dispensary license, with the listed incorporator of Sheila Wagnon, and Regeneration Naturals LLC for a cultivation license, with the listed incorporator again being Sheila Wagnon. An incorporator is not necessarily an owner of an enterprise. Much of the information in the applications is redacted so that the marijuana commissioners reviewing the applications won't be influenced by ownership information.
But, a reader tells the Arkansas Times, Sheila Wagnon is the wife of Richard Wagnon, and they were leaders of the successful drive to repeal a nondiscrimination ordinance passed by the Texarkana City Council to protect the civil rights of gay people. So?
From a Texarkana Gazette article on a meeting to organize the opposition, quoting Richard Wagnon:
" 'This ordinance will lead to potential discrimination towards me, as a Christian, and my religious beliefs. And I want to take a stand on that. And yet you're saying that you need protection from some perceived discrimination that I haven't even heard of. Ultimately this is all going to boil down to the citizen's vote.'
"Wagnon's wife, Sheila Wagnon, introduced Arkansas Attorney Travis Story, who has been involved in contesting similar ordinances in Fayetteville, Little Rock, Hot Springs, Eureka Springs and other cities throughout the state." The article went on to quote Story extensively on ills of the ordinance.
To complete the circle: Travis Story is a Fayetteville lawyer (a partner with Republican state Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Berryville)) who was appointed to the Medical Marijuana Commission by House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia). He will be voting on who gets the potentially lucrative cannabis permits.
Hundreds of applications are being reviewed for 32 dispensary and five cultivation permits. It's a good bet that the Wagnon-Story connection isn't the only instance of past associations. This is a small, friendly state after all.
Neither Wagnon nor Story returned calls for comment by press time.
The state Department of Finance and Administration last week released the names of all 322 applicants for cultivation and dispensing of marijuana. According to our count, there are 20 applicants with the word "green" in their name, such as Green Moon LLC, Your Green Fountain, AR Green Spirit, Fiddler's Green LLC, Green Apple Blossoms, Green Hearts LLC. There are 20 applicants with the word "wellness," such as 28th Street Wellness, Native Bloom Wellness, Natural Root Wellness of Fayetteville, Natural State Wellness, Nature's Herbs and Wellness of Arkansas LLC, Radiant Herbal Wellness Center, Tri-State Weed and Wellness. A special shout-out to those that combined common words, like "Native Green Wellness LLC" and "Serene Green Wellness."
The clear winning word, though, being used by medical marijuana companies is "natural." Over 30 companies use "natural" in their name, including Arkansas Natural Remedies, Caddo Naturals, Natural Care Enterprises, Natural State of Kind, Natural State Wellness (another combo) and Regeneration Naturals.
One company shares a name with the governor: Hutchinson and Steele Enterprises LLC, a dispensary planned for Waldron in Scott County. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission will announce Feb. 27 the five companies it has chosen to receive cultivation licenses. Ninety-five applications were made. The commission will then review dispensary licenses; the law allows licensing of up to 32..