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Arkansas Medical Marijuana Regulators Uphold State’s First Revocation Of A Dispensary License



“We awarded him this license, and at this point he’s laughing in our faces because he doesn’t care about the regulations of it.”

By Tess Vrbin, Arkansas Advocate

A Hot Springs medical marijuana dispensary became the first in Arkansas to have its license revoked after a nearly five-hour hearing Wednesday.

The board of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division voted to uphold Director Christy Bjornson’s May 2 decision to revoke Green Springs Medical Marijuana Dispensary’s license in light of several violations of the rules for medical marijuana handling and sales.

Green Springs owner Dragan Vicentic appealed Bjornson’s decision to the ABC board, allowing his business to remain operational before the hearing. He said Wednesday that he plans to appeal the board’s decision to a circuit court judge.

Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. The state has 37 dispensaries besides Green Springs, which was the second to open in 2019 upon being licensed; Suite 443, also in Hot Springs, was the first.

ABC enforcement agents found that Green Springs sold 1,882 expired products, Bjornson said. Medical marijuana products expire a year after their testing date and lose potency from then on.

Bjornson argued that this would negatively impact the health of the dispensary’s clients.

“At best case, they’re getting ripped off. At worst case, something’s going to happen where they’re at risk of harm,” she said. “…They cannot verify that they are keeping up with their treatment plan the way that they’ve been instructed to do by a medical professional.”

Bjornson’s decision came after an April ABC board hearing substantiated several charges of violations against Green Springs, according to the board order. In addition to the sale of expired products, the dispensary’s processing area was “unsanitary,” a required “comprehensive inventory” had not been completed, some products were unlabeled and some of the marijuana in the inventory system was unaccounted for in the store.

Vicentic said Wednesday that the inventory issues were a result of “human error” and that the processing area is rarely used.

ABC enforcement agents Haley Allen, Austin Hodges, Kanoesha Wilson and Blake Miller all testified to the board about the range of findings, mostly resulting from 2023 inspections of the facility.

Miller said he made two undercover purchases at the dispensary last year, yielding an unlabeled bottle of bud and an expired marijuana cartridge.

Green Springs serves more than 20,000 clients throughout Central and Southwest Arkansas. Some clients posted on social media last year that they bought two-year-old products at the dispensary, according to the board order.

‘Blatant disregard’

After an August inspection, Allen said, she gave Vicentic a list of the expired products she had found at the dispensary and said he was no longer allowed to sell them.

Vicentic signed the document at the time, but on Wednesday he claimed the list was illegible and he could not read it.

The board’s order states that after a January inspection, Vicentic admitted to selling over 500 expired items.

He said at the hearing that many of the items in question were within days of expiration but not yet there, so he reduced the prices in order to sell them more quickly. He claimed the discrepancy between what he believed to be the expiration dates and what ABC agents found was due to errors in the state’s medical marijuana tracking system.

Bjornson said Vicentic’s testimony was proof that “he will lie to your face.”

“We awarded him this license, and at this point he’s laughing in our faces because he doesn’t care about the regulations of it,” she said.

Chip Leibovich, ABC’s senior staff attorney, also chided Vicentic for “blatant disregard” of enforcement agents’ orders, which he called “the biggest violation” at hand.

Attorneys from the Hurst Law Group of Hot Springs represented Vicentic. One of them, Justin Hurst, asked Allen if she was aware of any endangerment to Green Springs clients as a result of her inspections.

“If we had a recall and something was wrong [with a product], we wouldn’t be able to track down what patient that affected,” Allen said.

Board member Jamie Anderson asked if ABC agents are only tasked with bringing up issues with medical marijuana products if someone has been harmed by them.

“We definitely want to be proactive and make sure nobody is harmed,” Allen said.

The ABC board has held eight hearings over medical marijuana violations in the past five years, and four have been about Vicentic and Green Springs, Leibovich said.

According to DFA, Green Springs’s past violations include:

  • Failure to maintain accurate personnel records
  • Failure to maintain video surveillance on the property
  • Lack of commercial grade locks at the facilities
  • Improper signage

Other dispensaries have violated rules but have not reached “the point where we don’t want to work with them anymore” or put “the entire integrity of the market at stake,” Bjornson said.

Purchases at the state’s dispensaries total $1.1 billion so far in five years, according to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration last month.

Vicentic said he expects further legal action to keep him in business. He did not comment further on the board’s decision.

An appeal to the court system will not delay the impact of the decision, which is that Vicentic has 30 days to sell or dispose of the cannabis at the dispensary, DFA spokesman Scott Hardin said. ABC agents will be able to seize any remaining products after the 30-day deadline.

This story was originally published by Arkansas Advocate.

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