The month of May represents an end and a beginning.
It’s the end of the long process to create a marijuana industry, and the beginning for the select companies and thousands of patients to actually use the drug.
Based on other states, it might be a million-dollar industry, and as our 11News investigation found, that much money and that much government are the reason the roll-out has been so difficult.
“If there hadn't have been an insane amount of money to be made in this industry, would those people still have been as excited about ‘oooh I'm gonna get in on the front end of this?’ Probably not,” said Quentin May, an attorney based in Little Rock.
May's business has picked up ever since Amendment 98 said medical marijuana is legal in Arkansas. “As soon as I filed [the lawsuit], my phone blew up for two weeks straight. Everybody around the state.”
May's lawsuit is accusing members of one family trying to get an edge on selling the drug.
It’s just one outcome of what happened when voters permitted Arkansas to join the dozens of states allowing cannabis, touching off a 21st-century land rush.
“Over the last year and a half, we've received well over 30 to almost 40 total complaints,” said Scott Hardin, the spokesperson for the Department of Finance and Administration, making him the public face and voice of the Medical Marijuana Commission.
Many of the people Hardin deals with and whom we talked with in the industry express a sincere desire to help people. They also expressed frustration over the way the commission tackled the task.
Once winners and losers of the cultivation and dispensary contests emerged, complaints started right away to the Alcohol Beverage Control enforcement division.
Hardin gave us documents showing that most have been dismissed, but a few continue, including the case of the Sears Family.
Don Sears, his wife Mary Francis Sears and their son Todd, each individually applied for and won the right to sell marijuana. Each can set up their own shops in three different zones.
Don Sears' "Doctor’s Orders" shop is expected to be among the first to open in the state, but on each of the family's applications, they put down "no" when asked specifically if they were affiliated with another applicant.
That prompted a group who narrowly missed getting a license to hire May.
“The spirit of the amendment and the rule was that you shouldn't have three, regardless of whose name you put them in,” May said.
The attorney for Don Sears said neither he nor his client would speak on camera with the legal matters up in the air. Their response to the suit hinges on one important word on the applications: "affiliated."
The family has a history with the ABC. Public records show that various Sears family members have interests in more than one liquor store, including Hog Wild Wines & Spirits in Cabot, and Maumelle Fine Wine & Spirits. Arkansas law doesn't allow any one individual to hold or own more than one liquor license.
Their lawyer claims different family members aren't necessarily "affiliated." ABC enforcement is supposed to investigate ownership issues for alcohol, and now director Doralee Chandler will have the same role with marijuana.
“This is going to go back to what is the definition of 'affiliated,'” Hardin said.
“Ultimately, that information and the results will be sent to the ABC director. Ultimately, she's going to make the call on this. If violations are issued, she'll make the determination: 'Is it a $1,000 fine or is this license revocation?'”
The other bone of contention: Arkansas ownership. The amendment requires companies to have at least 60 percent of the ownership comprised of people who live here, but how does a person from Arkansas get the expertise to start a business that until 2016 was illegal?
Easy: you call in heavy hitters from out of state.
That's what Lindsey Lovett Estes did with Grassroots, based in Chicago, according to their winning application.
Estes is listed as the president of the dispensary that won the right to sell in Ward but became the first to move to a busier spot in Little Rock. That approval started a cascade of similar efforts to change locations.
Grassroots will now be at a former bar at Kanis Rd and Rodney Parham Rd. They would only answer our written questions and said Estes was unavailable to talk.
A public relations spokesperson said part of the reason they wouldn’t discuss the ownership arrangement is that Grassroots and other out-of-state companies will rely on operating agreements signed with the Arkansas owners.
According to May and Hardin, those experienced operators run the business. They pay Arkansans to be the locals on the paperwork. The locals might not get a true 60 percent cut, but so far, the ABC says it satisfies the local ownership rules.
“I think there will have to be a call made, but it's going to have to be based on facts,” Hardin said. “I think ultimately the look into this is going to go deep enough to where we understand fully where that ownership lies.”
But the fact that marijuana permits went out with all these issues unresolved just doesn't feel right to some of the would-be marijuana millionaires on the outside looking in.
“They followed the rules. They did what they were supposed to,” May said. “It was only to see the system manipulated and perverted by a small group of people.”