NEWPORT — Local leaders have filed a second lawsuit over an abandoned medical marijuana cultivation facility.
Natural State Wellness Enterprises changed ownership and the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission allowed the new owners to move cultivation to Pine Bluff.
The first lawsuit, filed in April in Jackson County Circuit Court on behalf of Newport Mayor David Stewart and the residents of the city, is challenging the ownership change and transfer of the facility. Other plaintiffs are Jon Chadwell, director of the Newport Economic Development Commission; the Northeast Arkansas Charitable Foundation; and the Newport-Jackson County Industrial Development Bond Board.
The second lawsuit, filed Monday seeks the return of the real estate to those organizations’ control.
The lawsuit said Natural State Wellness Enterprises, the original owner of the permit in 2018, took advantage of hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial incentives in deciding to locate the cultivation facility in Newport.
According to the newest complaint, Natural State Wellness Enterprises transferred its interest in the Newport property to BRLS Properties AR-Newport LLC, for less than $100.
The new complaint said there was a provision in the deed transfer from Newport to Natural State Wellness Enterprises that, “In the event that the Grantee does not build, construct and operate a marijuana grow facility properly permitted by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission on the premises within 24 months from the date of this conveyance, title to the lands and premises shall revert to the Grantor.”
The first lawsuit said the Newport-Jackson County Industrial Development Bond Board sold 20 acres to Natural State Wellness, believed to be valued at $870,000, for just $20. The city also provided an estimated $75,000 worth of easements for streets, natural gas, electrical, sewer and water at no charge and installed a water and wastewater line at no charge. That work was worth more than $90,000, according to the complaint.
The local leaders also provided more than 700 hours of staff time to support the original application. Also, the plaintiffs provided free solid waste services for the first operation and a 50 percent discount on wastewater services for two years.
There’s been no movement in the first case since July 21, when lawyers for the marijuana commission filed a motion for dismissal.