JONESBORO — While Jonesboro police were raiding an apartment Jan. 23 and confiscating marijuana and other drug paraphernalia, armed enforcement agents for Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division were inside a medical marijuana cultivation center where the apartment’s resident worked.
That’s according to Rich Olson, former lead grower at the Newport facility licensed to Natural State Wellness Enterprises.
Nicholas Christian Nielsen, 40, was growing marijuana in his home in the 100 block of Cate Avenue, Jonesboro police said in a probable cause affidavit.
Nielsen was in charge of the Newport operation, and Olson, who transferred from a medical marijuana facility in Arizona to Newport in December, said he became concerned early on about management of the facility.
Harvest Health & Recreation of Tempe, Ariz., is contracted to run Natural State Wellness’ operations, and Olson said that multi-state company ran a tight ship where he worked previously. That’s not the way Nielsen operated, he said.
“There were no rules being followed, whatsoever,” Olson told The Jonesboro Sun in a recent interview.
Arkansas’ medical marijuana laws require meticulous record keeping, accounting for every bit of cannabis in the cultivation center.
Olson said Nielsen fired him following the bust, believing he tipped authorities off to his illegal grow operation. The company made the firing official after Nielsen appeared in court Jan. 28.
Olson said he decided to preserve his medical cannabis license, and reputation, by answering ABC agents’ questions.
“These guys had guns and they weren’t fooling around,” Olson said. “They’d been there twice and they’d been nice twice … They weren’t getting the origins of these clones (cuttings).”
Eventually, the agents learned the origins of the marijuana being grown in the legal facility in Newport came from Nielsen’s home, Olson said.
Olson said Nielsen told him he smuggled the clones from Colorado to begin the growing operation.
Police said they found 28 harvested marijuana plants in Nielsen’s garbage can on the street curb, then obtained a search warrant for inside the residence.
During the search, police said they found nearly 9.6 ounces of marijuana, 380 THC vape pens, two packages of THC gummy bears, three jars of THC honey, one jar of THC wax, two unharvested plants in grow tents and other drug paraphernalia, according to reports.
Scott Hardin, spokesman for ABC, which enforces regulations adopted by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, said he was unable to discuss the matter.
“ABC is aware of the arrest of Mr. Nielsen along with the associated allegations,” Hardin said in an email Jan. 31. “As with any matter potentially related to dispensaries or cultivation, this is currently under investigation at ABC.
“In the past legislative session, Act 568 was established for ABC. It is a FOIA exemption that prohibits ABC from sharing information related to any undisclosed or ongoing investigation,” Hardin said. “Due to this, we don’t have any specific information to share but when an investigation is closed, it is certainly open to FOIA.”
Nielsen is scheduled to appear Feb. 28 in Craighead County Circuit Court to answer to potential charges of manufacturing marijuana, possession of marijuana with the purpose to deliver and possession of drug paraphernalia.
He is free on $1,500 bond.
Efforts to obtain comment from Natural State Wellness or Harvest Health & Recreation have been unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, another medical marijuana company has sued Natural State Wellness, alleging trademark infringement.
Rock City Harvest LLC, doing business as Harvest Cannabis Dispensary in Conway, filed suit Jan. 14 in Faulkner County Circuit Court.
That Conway dispensary opened Oct. 11. Natural State Wellness is constructing a dispensary in Little Rock and has erected “multiple large, professionally designed signs that identify its business name as “Harvest House of Cannabis.”
Steven W. Quattlebaum, the Little Rock attorney for Natural State Wellness in that lawsuit, was out of his office Monday, and did not immediately respond to a Sun request for comment.