Public Consulting Group, the company hired by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission to evaluate dispensary applications, said it will try to provide results to the commission within the 30 days agreed after receipt of the applications — by mid-November or late November at the latest.
First, however, PCG must train a team of scorers, who will grade independently, so that their evaluations of application components will be consistent, manager Thomas Aldridge told the commission. It will be up to the commission to review the aggregate scores for location — 32 dispensaries will be divided up in eight regions — and award bonus points based on the rubric.
Commission Chairwoman Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman objected strongly to the lack of a physician on the scoring team that PCG has assembled: “industry experts” in government regulation, cannabis, a pharmacist, law and a nurse. Henry-Tillman said dispensaries should be evaluated as to knowledge of how to dispense medical marijuana appropriate to the disease process. She said the rubric for applicants requires dispensaries to be educated on what to do when an applicant comes in with one of the qualifying diseases. She said a nurse evaluation would be “unacceptable.”
“I get very nervous about patient care,” Henry-Tillman said. “To see a lack of support on medical is mind-boggling to me. This could be dangerous. … Someone could get hurt.” Commissioner Travis Story suggested that PCG review minutes and recordings — of which there would be hours — of the commission’s discussions on the educational component in dispensaries.
Aldridge said PCG would be “happy to revisit the idea and add that as a possibility. That would come with a few changes. That’s not the way I originally established [the team].” Aldridge didn’t say so, but hiring a physician might make its low bid for the job — under $100,00, a great deal less than other bids — unrealistic. He did say that hiring physicians for hours of work might be problematic, to which Henry-Tillman replied that she is a physician serving without compensation on the commission.
Commissioner James Miller, who participated in the meeting by conference call, asked Aldridge why the company’s bid was so low. Aldridge responded that PCG, which largely works with health and human service organizations on Medicaid issues, believed working with Arkansas was an “opportunity to see how we can go in and be helpful. … We also might use this as a jumping off point for other projects. We have no intention of making a lot of money on this contract.” Instead, it is a project that would help PCG establish a “footprint” in the cannabis business.
What Aldridge seemed to be saying was that while evaluating qualifications for certain government services is something PCG does, the contract with Arkansas will require a learning curve and be a test to see, as Aldridge described it, if “skill set and talents match up.”
The videotape secretly made by unsuccessful marijuana cultivator permit seeker Ken Shollmier of Commissioner Dr. Carlos Roman was not a subject of discussion. Roman did not attend the meeting.
The commission also engaged in a long discussion with its counsel on how to handle notification of disqualification to applicants, previously handled by ABC staff but required by law to go out under the commission’s signature.
A request at the end of the meeting by two people in the audience who wanted to speak to the issue of the disqualified applications was amenable to Henry-Tillman, but Story objected and suggested a separate meeting be held to hear comments, perhaps in a bigger venue. The commission agreed not to sign any notices of disqualification until a public hearing could be held. The hearing was tentatively set for 4:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at either Bowen School of Law or the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.