Nearly 100 applicants hopeful to be one of five medical marijuana cultivators

Five cultivator licenses for medical marijuana will be announced Feb. 27. Hundreds of applicants will be watching to see if they can grow the crop.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — Tuesday, Feb. 27 will be a landmark day in the campaign to bring medical marijuana to Arkansas. A state commission will announce which five companies will receive licenses to cultivate plants and create the products patients will use.

Many of the applicants want to keep a low profile ahead of the announcement, but Brian Fraught said he feels a mix of excitement and anxiety. He said he will be too nervous to be in the room when the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission announces the winners.

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“Can’t be there!” he joked. “So, I’m going to make myself get up and have a normal workday. I’ve got as many things planned as I can possibly have.”

Sixteen months have passed since Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow the medical use of marijuana. Faught thinks there was a fair amount of initial confusion about how long the process would take. “In the beginning,” he said, “that’s probably the one thing the state could have done a little bit better, but they didn’t know what they didn’t know.”

But shortly thereafter, he believes the process became much more organized.

“Talking to people around the industry, around the country that are in the industry and have dealt with other states, Arkansas is actually held as a model of doing this the right way,” he stated.

Faught, from Jacksonville, is part of one of the 95 groups that paid the $15,000 fee to apply for a cultivation license. They were graded by the commission members based on the quality of their applications, with the top five scores winning the licenses. Faught believes he has a leg up because he already got permits from the City of Fayetteville to build his facility.

“But I also have to be very realistic,” he acknowledged. “There are some very good applicants; very smart people; people that believe in the product, that have the business skill set to do this the right way, the professional way, and have the financial wherewithal to do it the right way. So, there are some very good applicants. There’s 95 people just like me that think they deserve to win!”

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The five winners will have to pay an additional $100,000 to the state to get their license. That check will make them the first members of Arkansas’s marijuana industry, something Faught says he has waited two years to accomplish. Patients, though, will have to keep waiting.

“You’re probably looking at 5-6 months to build a facility,” he explained. “Some groups will have to go get building permits prior to that; I went ahead and took care of that on the front end, hoping to get a little speed-to-market advantage on the other competitors. Five to six months to build the building, a couple months to grow a fast sativa crop, so depending on their permitting side, anywhere from 7-10 months from tomorrow, hopefully, there will be product available for the patients of Arkansas.”

Faught said he has a conditional agreement to buy five acres of land within Fayetteville’s commercial park. His group would build a 52,000 square foot greenhouse and a 27,000 square foot building for office and processing space. It would also have first right of refusal to buy the adjacent five acres and could build up to four more greenhouses as the company matures.

Faught expects to hire as many as 25 employees in the first phase of operations, and said the business could have 50 people on its staff within a couple years. “There is a lot of market growth to happen before we really see the capabilities of the industry met, financially,” he stated.

The state will still have to approve 32 marijuana dispensaries. While location does not factor into which cultivators win licenses, the dispensaries will be evenly distributed among the state’s four Congressional districts.

A spokesman for the Arkansas Division of Finance and Administration said the plan is for the commission to pick them either in late April or early May, but it has not set a date for that yet.

The cultivation licenses will be awarded at 3:30 p.m. in the offices of Alcohol Beverage Control.