As the race to open Arkansas’ first cannabis dispensary in time for April showers grows closer, the state Medical Marijuana Commission (MMC) on Tuesday (March 5) approved the first round of draft rules for the transportation of marijuana between cultivation facilities and retail stores across the state.
However, the new rules governing the licensure of medical marijuana transporters were only approved after MMC Chair Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman and other board members asked the regulatory panel’s legal staff to go back and clarify the term “distributor” and other key details in the eight pages of regulations.
In an hour-long discussion that bogged down on contingencies for the possible snafus in the transport of freshly grown cannabis, Henry-Tillman wanted assurances that such product is securely delivered to its destination or safely stored in a secure location once medical marijuana is on the shelf in Arkansas.
“I don’t know, if the weather is bad or something happens, we don’t know where that product is going to end up,” Henry-Tillman said after asking the Arkansas Beverage Control board staff how the state will handle the transport of medical marijuana in the case of a traffic accident, bad weather or lost delivery.
Deputy Attorney General Bruce Bowen, the commission’s legal counsel, guaranteed the MMC board members that the new transportation rules, when final, would insure medical cannabis is always safely stored and delivered securely to dispensaries from the five greenhouses approved to grow medical marijuana nearly a year ago.
“There’s real-time updates on where that product is, where it is going, and what the issue is,” Bowen told Henry-Tillman. “We are speaking in a hypothetical here because we’re building a licensure (process) for third-party transporters and that is something we are considering as the applications come in and we can ask them: ‘What are your contingency plans?’”
Bowen later added that those best laid plans won’t be put to the test until the rules are officially in place and medical marijuana is being delivered to the 32 licensed dispensaries across eight different quadrants of the state. “Those are things we are looking at, but we’re operating in a vacuum (now),” he said.
Key provisions in the licensure rules for medical marijuana transporters include security measures, financial requirements, inventory reports, advertising restrictions, record keeping guidelines, and how product will be delivered to the dispensaries. Transporters will also have to show proof of financial stability, have access to ample cash flow, and no history of bankruptcies over the past eight years.
Top executives for the transport companies will also have to go through similar background checks as the cultivation and dispensaries owners. They will also be required to put a $100,000 performance bond and pay a license and renewal fee of $5,000 annually, MMC officials said.
Bowen and ABC Director Doralee Chandler also told the MMC board that the legal staff is working to have new operational rules in place by the time the first dispensary is expected to open next month. In early January, the MMC board approved the scores of dispensary applications recommended by Boston-based Public Consulting Group (PCG) to locate four pharmacies each across eight equally populated quadrants of the state. Several companies have announced intentions to have medical marijuana available for purchase by early April.
In other business, the five-person MMC board approved an application by Natural State Wellness Dispensary LLC of Little Rock to transfer its current location on 11201 Stagecoach Road in West Pulaski County to another site at 900 S. Rodney Parham Road.
Natural State spokesman Ben Kimbro told the commission that plans for the Stagecoach location have been slowed by stalled negotiations with the landowners. He said the owners of Natural State already have another building at the Rodney Parham location that could be up-and-running by July. If the building doesn’t meet engineering specifications, it would then be razed and a newly constructed dispensary could be ready by the fall, Kimbro said.
Also, an application by RX Med Inc. of Nevada County to transfer its dispensary location to Texarkana was tabled after Prescott Mayor Terry Oliver and that city’s economic development director, Mary Godwin, protested the relocation of the medical marijuana storefront in Southwest Arkansas.
RX Med representative Chris Travis told MMC officials that the Prescott partnership planned to relocate their dispensary nearly 55 miles down I-30 to Texarkana in Miller County. He said there was no suitable location in Prescott, a town of about 3,200 that serves as the county seat of Nevada County. If that transfer is eventually approved, all of the dispensaries in Zone 8 would be in the Southwest Arkansas city abutting the Arkansas-Texas stateline, he said.
However, Godwin told the MMC that RX Med officials had earlier reneged on a land deal to buy 15 acres of premium property on I-30 in March 2018, later changing its mind to purchase only one acre. Godwin said RX Med officials have since stopped communicating with Prescott officials only to learn of their decision to move to Texarkana from news articles and information on the MMC website.
Godwin said she and Mayor Oliver traveled to Little Rock on Tuesday afternoon to protest RX Med’s move to Miller County, noting the dispensary would be a economic boon to a small city like Prescott.
“We’re just here to talk about it from an economic development standpoint,” Godwin told the commission. “We wanted it for the jobs, even if it is just five or six. In a community of 3,200 in rural Southwest Arkansas, that’s make a big difference. I know big places like Little Rock and Fayetteville would probably just sneeze at five or six jobs, but not our community.”
After Godwin’s testimony, the MMC unanimously voted to postpone a decision on the RX Med transfer until the next meeting in early April. Commissioners were told by the legal staff that at least a handful of new transfer applications will be along on the next MMC agenda.
Since mid-January, all 32 of the medical cannabis dispensaries approved by commission to begin selling medical-grade marijuana across the state have paid the $15,000 licensing fee and posted the necessary $100,000 performance bond in hopes of starting business by early April.
If that April timetable is true, the first cannabis for medical use will be sold in Arkansas exactly 2-1/2 years after voters approved Amendment 98, the ballot issue in the November 2016 election that legalized medical marijuana in Arkansas.
As of Feb. 28, the state Department of Health had certified nearly 7,640 patients who have at least one of the 18 medical conditions that qualify for treatment with medical marijuana. The department began sending out medical marijuana cards to certified patients in mid-February.