Hot Springs and Garland County, the center of the state’s gaming and tourism industry, will soon be the hotbed for Arkansas’ fledgling medical marijuana sector, according to state regulators overseeing efforts to get the industry off the ground.
Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board staff inspectors recently conducted the final task for Doctors Order RX in Hot Springs, one of 32 dispensaries across eight quadrants or “zones” selected by the state Medical Marijuana Commission (MMC) in January to sell cannabis products to qualified medical patients.
“Of the 32 licensed dispensaries, ABC enforcement agents recently conducted the final inspection for Doctors Order RX in Hot Springs,” said state Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin, media liaison for state marijuana regulators. “ABC Director Doralee Chandler is currently reviewing the results of that inspection. Upon ABC issuing final clearance, the dispensary may open.”
Doctors Order is one of four medical marijuana storefronts selected by the MMC board to represent Zone 6, including three in Hot Springs. There is also one final inspection scheduled for Green Springs Medical, also located in Hot Springs, for May 9, Hardin said.
“We anticipate one of these (Doctors Orders RX or Green Springs Medical) will be the first dispensary to open its doors for business,” Hardin told Talk Business & Politics late Wednesday (May 1). “This should take place in mid-May.”
All 32 of the medical cannabis dispensaries approved by Arkansas regulators in early January to begin selling medical-grade marijuana have paid the $15,000 licensing fee and posted the necessary $100,000 performance bond in hopes of starting business by early April, state officials have said.
The ABC Enforcement Division, which provides oversight for the state’s newest industry sector, continues to inspect the remaining dispensaries selected to put cannabis product on the shelf in Arkansas, ranging from flowers and extracts to smoking penholders and edible products.
Still, many of those retailers in eight equally distributed zones across the state have not yet been inspected to begin operations, which leaves the possibility that only a few retail locations will be open in the first half of 2019. Several dispensary applications reviewed by Talk Business and Politics shows some dispensaries are not expected to come online until late 2019 and early 2020.
ABC staff also began in late January investigating protest letters received by the MMC concerning cultivation facilities and dispensaries. Chandler, who replaced former ABC Director Mary Robin Casteel in late 2018, is charged with releasing those decisions on possible violations as those investigations are completed.
In early February, Chandler issued two final orders concerning Natural State Medicinals Cultivation of Little Rock and River Valley Relief Cultivation of Fort Smith regarding complaints that both growers had submitted applications to the MMC that violated state medical marijuana rules.
As previously announced, Bold Team LLC in Cotton Plant received approval from ABC’s Enforcement Division in early January 2019, followed by Osage Creek Cultivation in Berryville a few weeks later. ABC agents conducted a final inspection of the Natural State Medicinals’ facility in White Hall shortly thereafter.
Since then, all three of those marijuana growers have launched operations. Bold Team, which has already harvested its first crop, has produced the most aggressive timetable to process and then deliver the state’s first marijuana product to dispensaries that are now open for business.
Danny Brown, CEO of the North Little Rock-based ownership group behind the south Arkansas cultivation facility, has told MMC officials that his partnership is building a hybrid greenhouse that will produce nearly two dozen strains of marijuana for Arkansas dispensary owners to process and prescribe varied medicinal cannabis products to treat, suppress or manage the symptoms of a medical condition.
If medical marijuana is available in Arkansas as expected around May 10, it will have been roughly 2-1/2 years after voters approved Amendment 98, the ballot issue in the November 2016 election that legalized medical marijuana in Arkansas.
Natural State Medicinals, which had the top score of 486 under the commission’s 500-point scoring system approved by the state legislature in 2017, is also racing to have its first cannabis product ready to deliver to dispensaries in a few weeks.
Company CEO Joseph Courtright has publicly said his startup firm’s partnership, which is affiliated with former USA Drug executive Stephen LaFrance, has plans in place to develop up to 15 strains of medical marijuana and produce over 17,000 pounds of marijuana for medical use in the first year of operations. In the second year, he said, the Pine Bluff facility hopes to ramp up to nearly 22,000 pounds of marijuana yield.
In mid-April, after a newly-reconstituted MMC board adopted final rules on how cannabis will be transported across the Natural State, the total number of medical patients certified to purchase marijuana in Arkansas topped 10,000 Arkansans for the first time, spiking more than 25% from the previous month.
As of April 25, state health officials had certified nearly 10,877 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.
Below is the list, location (city) and respective zones for the 32 dispensaries that have been licensed by the MMC to sell cannabis products in Arkansas to qualified patients.
Acanza Health Group (Fayetteville)
Valentine Holdings (Fayetteville)
Arkansas Medicinal Source Patient Center (Bentonville)
The Releaf Center (Bentonville)
Fiddler’s Green (Mountain View)
Plant Family Therapeutics (Mountain Home)
Arkansas Natural Products (Clinton)
Big Fish of Central Arkansas (Heber Springs)
THC RX Inc. (West Memphis)
Delta Cannabis Co. (West Memphis)
Comprehensive Care Group (West Memphis)
NEA Full Spectrum (Rector)
JPS Management LLC (doing business as Fort Cannabis Co.) (Fort Smith)
River Valley Dispensary (Bluffton)
Johnson County Dispensary (Clarksville)
Grassroots OPCO (Ward)
Natural State Wellness Dispensary (Little Rock)
Natural Relief Dispensary (Sherwood)
Doctor’s Orders RX (Hot Springs)
Green Springs Medical (Hot Springs)
Native Green Wellness Center (Hensley)
Natural State Medical Group (Hot Springs)
Pain Free RX (Pine Bluff)
Delta Cultivators (Helena)
Pine Bluff Agriceuticals (Pine Bluff)
Arkansas Patient Services Company (Warren)
Noah’s Ark (El Dorado)
Bloom Medicinals of AR (Texarkana)
RX MED (Prescott)