Central Arkansas medical marijuana certifier announces plans to expand statewide

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 1,544 views 

Little Rock-based AR Cannabis Clinic (ARCC) has announced plans to expand its operations with multiple new medical offices across the state that specializes in certifying new patients seeking pot for medical use.

Promoted as the “leading statewide provider of medical marijuana certifications,” ARCC said it will open clinics in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Jonesboro, Hot Springs, Clinton, West Memphis and Pine Bluff over the next three months. AR Cannabis Clinic owner Dr. David Nguyen said those expansion plans will grow the medical group’s employment base from a staff of 15 to nearly 100, including doctors at every location.

“We want to have a location within one hour of every person in the state,” Nguyen told Talk Business & Politics. “The patient feedback that we are getting over and over again, a lot of our patients know that it works for their condition, and they come to us because they want to get it legal. Our patients, the majority of them, they already know that is better for them and their condition than prescription medications.”

Although the central Arkansas doctor would not divulge his AR Cannibis’ financial investment for the statewide expansion, he said the medical group would specialize in certifying and providing services to patients with one of the 18 qualifying conditions necessary to receive a medical marijuana ID card.

AR Cannibis has clinics in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Texarkana. In a news release, Nguyen said he started the company with his wife Hannah with the mission “to provide access to as many qualified patients to medical marijuana as possible.”

“AR Cannabis Clinic only uses licensed doctors and the company is fully registered and approved as a medical marijuana clinic with the Arkansas State Medical Board (ASMB),” said Nguyen. “When a patient visits (us), they meet with a licensed doctor who will review their medical records and determines if the patient has one of the 18 allowed qualifying conditions allowed by state law.”

According to business filings with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office, Nguyen first incorporated HD Clinic Ltd to establish AR Cannabis Clinic as an Arkansas-based for-profit company in February 2019, about one month after the state Medical Marijuana Commission approved a recommendation to award licenses for 32 medical marijuana dispensary locations across eight quadrants of the state Arkansas.

It has now been nearly three years since Arkansas voters backed marijuana for medical patients. Under rules approved by the legislature in 2017, state regulators approved licenses for five cannabis cultivation facilities and 32 retail dispensaries. Since then, three of the five greenhouses have opened for business, but only 10 dispensaries have passed ABC muster to sell cannabis products in Arkansas.

Last week, Arkansas Beverage Control Board (ABC) Doralee Chandler said that state regulators intend to look at rewriting medical marijuana rules that would allow regulators to revoke licenses for cultivation and dispensary owners that have not opened by mid-2020.

If the patient qualifies for one of the 18 qualifying conditions, an Arkansas doctor must sign a certification letter that is then sent by the patient to the Arkansas Department of Health.  Once that patient receives a state-approved medical marijuana ID card from the state Health Department, they can purchase up to 2.5 ounces every two weeks from any of the state-licensed dispensaries across the state.

Officials with the State Medical Board referred all questions concerning AR Cannabis and the number of medical providers in Arkansas that certify medical marijuana patients to the state Department of Health. Agency spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill told Talk Business & Politics that approximately 676 physicians submitted medical marijuana certifications to the department in fiscal 2019, which ended on June 30.

That annual report included a “de-identified” total number of doctors completing a “Physician Written Certification” form, said McNeill, but “the agency does not have a report that provides the number of certifications per physician, though. ADH does not regulate the practice of medicine or doctors’ business practices.”

Under Amendment 98 that Arkansas voters approved in November to make marijuana legal for medical use, “an application or renewal and supporting information submitted by a qualifying patient or designated caregiver under this amendment, including without limitation information regarding the qualifying patient’s physician, are considered confidential records that are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act …”

As of Oct. 22, there has been more than 2,159 pounds of medical marijuana sold at 10 Arkansas dispensaries, according to state Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin, media liaison for the five-person MMC board. Medical pot sales have totaled $15.36 million since the first product was sold in Hot Springs on May 10, he said.

Since AR Cannabis began operations in February, there were just over 7,000 Arkansans with medical marijuana ID cards. That number has jumped nearly 275% to 26,197 as of Oct. 25, state Health Department data shows. Nguyen said he believes once there is a dispensary in every quadrant of the state, the number of patients with medical marijuana ID cards will increase dramatically.

“I think many people waiting to see -and-see when all the dispensaries open, then I think that number will see a big jump,” he said.