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Rules governing how Arkansans can register to use medical marijuana cleared another hurdle Thursday when they gained final approval from the state Board of Health.

The rules unanimously approved by the board, with little discussion, govern the issuance of marijuana-user registration cards as well as the labeling and testing of the drug.

Although a draft of rules drew numerous comments from prospective marijuana vendors and users after it received initial board approval in January, the Department of Health staff made only a few technical corrections before submitting the final version to the board Thursday, said Robert Brech, the department's chief attorney.

Brech said it's possible adjustments could be made in response to comments this August, when the board will likely revise the rules to reflect laws passed by the Legislature during this year's regular session.

[INTERACTIVE MAP: Click here for a look at how laws related to marijuana have evolved over the past two decades.]

The board didn't have time to make any substantive changes to the rules it approved Thursday because of a deadline set in state law.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment to the state constitution, approved by voters in November, legalized the possession and sale of medical marijuana in the state and gave the board until March 9 to adopt the rules. The Legislature extended that to May 8.

Making substantive changes to the draft rules, Brech has said, would have required the board to restart the rule-making process, including holding another 30-day public comment period.

The regulations would require applicants for a medical-marijuana card to have an Arkansas driver's license or other state-issued identification card, pay a $50 registration fee and provide written certification from a doctor that the patient has a qualifying condition.

Among those numerous conditions are cancer, severe arthritis, Crohn's disease and chronic conditions causing symptoms such as "intractable pain," severe nausea or seizures.

Patients under age 18 would be allowed to obtain a card only with the written consent of a parent or guardian and written assurance from a physician that the risks and benefits had been explained to the patient and the parent or the guardian.

A person caring for a disabled person with a qualifying condition also would be allowed to obtain a card allowing the caregiver to obtain marijuana on behalf of a patient.

The regulations also would allow visitors from other states that allow medical marijuana to use their cards from those states in Arkansas, as long as they certify in writing that they have a condition that would qualify them for a card in Arkansas.

Cultivation centers and dispensaries would be required to test each batch of marijuana for pesticides, THC, cannabidiol levels and heavy metals.

The levels of THC and cannabidiol would be required to be listed on labels on containers sold by the dispensaries.

Brech said the rules will go to the executive subcommittee of the state Legislative Council for emergency approval next week. The Legislature will end its regular session Monday and immediately reconvene in a special session expected to last three days.

That approval would allow the rules to go into effect immediately for a 120-day period in order to meet the statutory deadline.

The rules will go to the Legislative Council for permanent approval later in May, he said.

The Board of Health is one of three entities directed by the amendment to develop rules to facilitate the sale of medical marijuana in the state.

Earlier this month, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, created by the amendment, approved rules governing the licensing of marijuana cultivation facilities and dispensaries, and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board approved rules governing those facilities' operations.

Brech has said the Health Department likely will begin accepting applications for patient registration cards in June but won't issue the cards until some time later -- ideally about 30 days before medical marijuana becomes available for sale in the state.

The Medical Marijuana Commission is expected to begin accepting dispensary and cultivation facility license applications July 1.

Metro on 04/28/2017

Print Headline: Health Board OKs pot-user sign-up rules

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