An Arkansas Children’s Hospital nurse was appointed to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission on Monday — two days before the body plans to consider applications for the state’s first dispensary licenses.
Justin Smith, 38, of Cabot will serve the remaining two years of the term of former commission member James Miller, who resigned last month to focus on his family and business.
Smith and recently appointed commission member Kevin Russell are both expected to attend and vote in their first meeting on Wednesday. The meeting was scheduled for the five-member commission to review a consulting firm’s scores of the 200 applications for the state’s first 32 medical cannabis dispensary permits and potentially vote on whether to certify those scores.
Smith manages patient care in Arkansas Children’s neuroscience unit, said Hilary DeMillo, the hospital’s media relations manager.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said Smith supported the clinical use of cannabis, and that his decade of clinical experience was key to the appointment.
“I feel like he’s got the right experience, and some of that’s going to be beneficial to the commission, particularly, with the state that it’s at now,” Dismang said. “He’s eager to help and wants to make sure the program is implemented as soon as possible.”
The Medical Marijuana Commission was created by Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution, which voters approved in November 2016 to legalize marijuana for medical use. The amendment authorized the commission to issue licenses to grow and sell the controversial drug.
Legal and regulatory delays have stalled the program’s implementation, but regulators expect the first dispensary to begin selling medical cannabis in April.
The first five growing licenses were issued in July, and those companies have begun constructing their greenhouses across the state.
If the commission on Wednesday votes to ratify Public Consulting Group’s dispensary application scores, the first selling permits could be issued as early as next week.
The scores were released last month after the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, which houses the Medical Marijuana Commission, received a deluge of public records requests for the Boston-based consultant’s evaluations.
The commission was initially scheduled to meet Dec. 19 to review the scores, but that meeting was rescheduled to give other new commissioners additional time to learn their new roles.
Commission members are appointed by the governor and leaders of both chambers of the General Assembly.
Smith said he’s seen cannabis derivatives work effectively in the treatment of children with epilepsy.
“I’ve seen it work with my own eyes,” Smith said on Monday. “When you see that, it kind of changes your mind and perspective on things. Especially in my case, when you see it work on children, you can’t really deny it has some benefit with proper application.”