RIVER VALLEY RELIEF: Storm Nolan, owner of River Valley Relief, should have been allowed to join a case involving his cultivation facility, the Supreme Court said today.

A Fort Smith medical marijuana cultivator can keep its license for a while longer after the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a lower court erred in not allowing its owner to be a part of a case brought by a different would-be cultivator.

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The state Supreme Court found that Storm Nolan, owner of River Valley Relief Cultivation, was an “indispensable party” who should have been allowed to take part in the case. Nolan was not named as a defendant in the case, and Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright denied Nolan’s multiple attempts to join the case. 

Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood wrote the 5-2 opinion vacating Wright’s ruling and sending the matter back to Wright’s court with Nolan added as a party in future proceedings. Justice Barbara Webb wrote a concurrence, while Justices Karen Baker and Shawn Womack dissented. 

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The majority opinion cites Rule 19 of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires certain impacted parties to be included in lawsuits. 

2600 Holdings, the plaintiff in the case, was denied a cultivation permit during the state’s initial application process. The company filed suit against the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, the Department of Finance & Administration and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, arguing the commission had granted a license to River Valley Relief despite problems with River Valley’s application. 

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The plaintiffs argued River Valley’s cultivation facility was less than 3,000 feet from the Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Facility, which they said met the definition of a “school.” The medical marijuana amendment says cultivation facilities must be at least 3,000 feet from a school. 

The plaintiffs also argued the license was issued to a business entity that was different than the entity listed in the cultivator’s application. Nolan, the majority owner of the facility with his brother, Kane Whitt, applied for the permit under the name River Valley Production. Nolan dissolved that entity when he did not receive one of the first five cultivation permits. Nolan later created a new entity, River Valley Relief Cultivation, which was awarded a permit. 

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In 2022, Wright agreed with the plaintiffs, ruling that the commission had violated the state constitution and its own rules when it awarded the license and that it should “take all steps necessary to remedy these violations.” 

UPDATE:

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Abtin Mehdizadegan, attorney for 2600 Holdings, provided this statement on today’s ruling from the court:

The Supreme Court ruled on narrow procedural grounds that Storm Nolan can intervene in this lawsuit, and the case has been remanded back to Judge Wright for a merits decision. This is an unfortunate delay, however, my client is undeterred and remains focused on vindicating its rights under Amendment 98. On the merits, Judge Wright has already ruled that Mr. Nolan failed to satisfy the constitution’s qualification requirements, and nothing has changed in that regard.