State calls for dismissal of medical marijuana lawsuit blocking certification of new dispensaries

This Sept. 15, 2015 file photo shows marijuana plants a few weeks away from harvest in a medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill.
This Sept. 15, 2015 file photo shows marijuana plants a few weeks away from harvest in a medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill.

LITTLE ROCK -- A medical-marijuana licensing lawsuit that is blocking Arkansas authorities from certifying new dispensaries should be dismissed because the courts don't have the authority to second-guess the regulating process, and the plaintiff, a Black-owned company passed over for a seller's license, has waited too long to sue, state lawyers assert, among other arguments, in the latest court filings.

Absolute Essence of Little Rock is suing marijuana regulators, complaining that it was passed over for a sellers license in 2017 that went to less-qualified applicants, none of which were Black-owned.

The two-week-old suit claims Absolute Essence has been the victim of racial discrimination by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, and that discrimination has tainted the dispensary licensing process since its inception.

The company, represented by Maryland attorney Matt Simmons and Little Rock lawyers Erin Cassinelli and Timothy Giattina, filed suit now as the commission moves to change its rules so it can license two more sellers, possibly in March. The proposed change would require approval from the Arkansas Legislative Council.

Absolute Essence has persuaded Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray to temporarily block regulators from licensing any new sellers until a Feb. 28 court hearing on whether that prohibition should be extended until the case is resolved.

Senior Attorney General Assistants Attorney General Jennifer Merritt and William Bird, representing the state agencies, on Tuesday moved to dismiss the litigation in a 23-page motion that invokes sovereign immunity, Arkansas Supreme Court precedent regarding the authority of the courts to review commission decisions and the statute of limitations for challenging licensing decisions.

Arguing further, the state lawyers assert that Absolute Essence can't sue over the possibility of how the commission would award future licenses since those licenses have not been bestowed.

If the rule change is approved, the two sellers licenses will be awarded to dispensaries selected by regulators from the highest-graded on the reserve list of unselected applications.

Those are Green Remedies Group in Zone 6, which covers Scott, Polk, Montgomery, Garland, Perry, Saline, Hot Spring and Grant counties; and T&C Management in Zone 8, which includes Howard, Sevier, Little River, Hempstead, Miller, Nevada, Lafayette, Columbia, Union, Ouachita, Calhoun, Clark and Dallas counties.

Absolute Essence is an applicant in Zone 6. The company scored 20th out of 29 applicants in that zone, while Green Remedies Group scored fifth, according to information provided by the Department of Finance and Administration.

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