Medical marijuana transportation rules await approval

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 574 views 

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission recently approved rules for transporting medical marijuana products, but the state legislature and governor also must approve them before going into effect.

Scott Hardin, communications director for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, said the third-party transportation rules are expected to be approved over the next 30 to 40 days. Once they are, the commission can start accepting applications from companies looking to receive a license to transport the products, he said. Over the next month, three to five dispensaries are expected to open, and because the rules likely won’t be in place by then, the cultivators will deliver the first medical marijuana products to the dispensaries.

The rules would allow licensed third-party companies to transport medical marijuana products throughout the state. Each company would be required to pay a $5,000 application fee and have a $100,000 performance bond. The companies would pay $5,000 annually to renew their license. Two employees are required to be in the vehicle transporting the products, and the vehicle must be unmarked and have an alarm system. The companies must transport the products during regular business hours of the dispensary to which they are being transported, and they cannot hold the products more than 24 hours.

Hardin expects the state to have between 10 and 15 third-party transportation companies.

Security provider Liberty Defense Group of Fayetteville started to offer security and transportation services for the medical marijuana industry in Oklahoma earlier this year and plans to start transporting medical marijuana products in Arkansas after the rules are approved, co-founder Jon Reeves said. He and business partner Ryan Hansen, who are military veterans, founded Liberty Defense Group in 2016, and it has seven employees in Arkansas and three in Oklahoma.

The company looks to serve between 12 and 15 dispensaries and two cultivators in Arkansas. The company will use a Dodge Ram ProMaster 2500 cargo van to transport medical marijuana products and money in separate safes, which will allow the company to make multiple deliveries. The vehicle will be equipped with security cameras and a GPS system, allowing the company and client to track the delivery while it’s in transit, and the two personnel in the vehicle will be armed, Reeves said. The transportation service is expected to cost less than $100 per hour.

Erik Danielson, a Fayetteville attorney and owner of Walton Boulevard Wine & Spirits, is converting the liquor store into one of the 32 dispensaries across the state after receiving a permit from the Medical Marijuana Commission to operate the store as a dispensary. The store at 406 Razorback Drive, off Walton Boulevard and north of Arkansas Highway 102, should open as a dispensary by the end of June or early July.

An economist at the Denver law firm with which Danielson has been working projects the store will sell 25 pounds of flower per month. Flower is marijuana in its most common form — the product that’s smoked. The store is expected to receive more than 25 pounds of flower monthly, and it also will cultivate medical marijuana on-site as it’s allowed up to 50 mature marijuana plants. The store looks to create between three and five lines of medical marijuana products and sell vape pens, edibles, tinctures and pressed pills.

“We will probably pick up just about everything that’s available in the market and see what people buy,” Danielson said.

Dispensaries that develop their own product lines can transport medical marijuana products to other dispensaries interested in selling the products, he said. The products must be lab tested for potency and deemed safe for consumption before they can be sold. The store plans to handle the transportation of its products.

Arkansas voters in 2016 approved the use of medical marijuana. As of April 18, the Arkansas Department of Health has issued 10,538 medical marijuana ID cards allowing for the purchase of medical marijuana products.

TRANSPORTATION INDUSTRY IMPACT
In a recent webinar, several officials discussed the impact of medical marijuana on the transportation industry as it becomes available in Arkansas.

Adam Dolan, a partner at Goldberg Segalla, said marijuana, or cannabis, remains a schedule 1 drug under federal law, but 45 states have allowed for marijuana use, whether medically or recreationally. Schedule 1 drugs, including heroin, LSD and Ecstasy, have no accepted medical use in the United States, according to the Controlled Substances Act. Talk has been ongoing to remove marijuana as a scheduled drug, Dolan said.

Medical marijuana is not prescribed, but patients must meet certain requirements to obtain it, he said. If a patient meets a condition, a healthcare provider can recommend medical marijuana. Patients purchase marijuana from a state dispensary, not a pharmacy.

In the workplace, employers are not required to accommodate employees’ use of medical marijuana, said Dolan, adding that employers must continue to maintain a drug-free workplace. Marijuana use can lead to a loss of fine motor skills, which can be an issue for drivers. Marijuana use remains unacceptable under U.S. Department of Transportation rules and regulations, and it has issued statements that it’s not changing its drug program. Commercial vehicle drivers still must be drug tested before employment and after crashes.

Todd Simo, chief medical officer and vice president of transportation business development for Hire Right, said the average medical marijuana user is in the upper 20s, and it’s most commonly used for chronic pain. Marijuana intoxication has a duration of about three to six hours after using it, and users typically are somewhat sleepy and relaxed. It also has a lasting effect on one’s spatial determination, and after 24 hours after use, people can still struggle with this.

Simo also discussed CBD, or cannabidiol, and how it’s the pain relief part of marijuana but without the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), or the intoxicating part of marijuana. Those who use pure CBD don’t test positive for marijuana use in a drug screen, but Simo cautioned that some products on the market might be labeled as CBD but could have more THC than CBD. And, some products with a CBD label might not contain any CBD, he said. The CBD products containing THC will lead to positive drug screens.

The appropriate use of medical marijuana is difficult to verify, he said. A urine test provides a window of testing much greater than impairment. It can detect its use within seven days, and hair testing provides for an even greater window of testing than that. Simo said he likes oral fluids testing, which can detect marijuana use within the past 24 hours, and a person who tests positive is impaired.

Mark Savage, deputy chief of Colorado State Patrol, explained the medical marijuana industry in Colorado has grown 85.7% to a $1.3 billion business in 2016, from a $700 million business in 2014. The state in 2012 approved the recreational use of marijuana, and users are allowed to have up to 1 ounce of marijuana but can’t smoke it in public. The state has more marijuana dispensaries than McDonald’s and Starbucks, he said.

Between 2014 and 2016, arrests declined for driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, but citations rose for marijuana being the drug that led to the DUI, Savage said. Between 2017 and 2018, marijuana as the impairing drug rose 25% in DUI arrests. Drug impairment increased in 2018 after falling in 2017. Alcohol impairment rose in 2017 but fell in 2018.

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