Arkansas fired the starting pistol on its medical marijuana program last week as applications went public for patients, growers, and dispensaries.
Arkansans approved medical marijuana in 2016 with a constitutional amendment that won 53 percent of the vote. A similar measure was narrowly defeated there in 2012. State officials have been working since November to design and implement the program.
- Applications were available last week.
Starting Friday, patients could apply for a medical marijuana ID card for a cost of $50. Arkansas officials said they expect 20,000 to 40,000 patients to apply. Those cards will be issued 30 days before Arkansas dispensaries begin selling marijuana, which is expected in early 2018.
Also, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission (AMMC) began accepting applications for "cultivation" facilities, or marijuana grow operations. The AMMC will issue only five licenses but can issue up to eight if necessary or less than five if qualified applicants don't meet the September 18th application deadline.
The commission also started to accept applications for 32 dispensaries across the state. The commission carved up the state in eight geographic zones, and each zone will get four dispensaries. The zone closest to Memphis stretches from the Missouri boot heel to Crittenden County, home to West Memphis.
"The applications [for growers and dispensaries] will cover a lot of subjects and will require a lot of information from the applicants," said Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, chairman of the AMMC. "The goal is to have the best possible facilities here in Arkansas, and we've designed the applications to help us find the very best."
Not all cities are required to have medical marijuana dispensaries, though. The law passed by voters allows cities to opt out. So far, only Hot Springs and Siloam Springs have chosen bans (but those bans are only a few months long).
Of course, the law does not give marijuana patients carte blanche to smoke just anywhere. According to the law, marijuana cannot be consumed on a school bus, on the grounds of any preschool or primary or secondary school, in a motor vehicle, any government building, health-care facility, and other designated areas.
Also, those who qualify for the program must have a doctor's note verifying they have a lawmaker-approved malady such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and more.
While the program is not yet off the ground, business is already growing around it. And why not? Arkansas' medical marijuana industry is expected to grow to about $70 million in the next seven years, according to figures from KUAR, Little Rock's public radio station.
Companies wanting in are dispensaries and growers, of course. But others aren't so on the nose. Last week a company called Herbal Compliance held meetings at Horsehoe Lake to lure investors in hopes of raising between $100,000 and $1 million. The minimum buy-in was $100.
That money will be used to finance a business that aims to help marijuana companies navigate the waters between state law and federal law.
It's unclear so far just how having legal marijuana across the river will affect Memphis. Only Arkansas residents can apply for the program.