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The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission on Tuesday approved its final rules governing how businesses can cultivate and sell marijuana.

But the commission's job is not over.

Commissioners expect to hold a hearing March 31 at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's William H. Bowen School of Law to listen to what the public has to say about the proposed rules. The time of the hearing has not been determined.

After that, lawmakers must approve the rules, which must be adopted no later than May 8, and the commission must use its rules to decide who receives licenses to grow and sell marijuana.

[BILL TRACKER: See the status of all marijuana-related bills in Arkansas Legislature]

Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, the commission's chairman, said that though the rules may be written, questions remain about who is in charge of educating patients and ensuring safety.

"People who want it are thinking about the relief that it provides them," she said. "Others are thinking dollar signs and business plans, but ... the safety of that individual has to be considered as well."

Another commissioner, Dr. Carlos Roman, said a patient with seizures would be better helped by marijuana that contains more cannabidiol than THC. The latter is the component that produces a high.

He questioned who would be in charge of giving patients such information.

Lawmakers approved and Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill removing a requirement in the voter-approved Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment that doctors certify "the potential benefits of the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks for the qualifying patient."

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Instead, doctors must certify that patients have a condition that allows them to receive medical marijuana.

Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, who sponsored the bill, said the change was necessary to get doctors to participate, since there are no accepted medical marijuana guidelines that would allow them to weigh the pros and cons of a particular patient's use of the drug.

"From a business perspective ... it was a good move," Henry-Tillman said of Act 5. "But when you care for patients every day that experience something, you don't think it's a good move because at the end of the day, [if] my cancer patient comes in with a problem -- whatever it is -- I have to address that issue."

Commissioners concluded they didn't have authority under the amendment to impose a patient education requirement.

Instead, they made a last-minute change to their draft rules to include public outreach and education in a bonus-points section for growers and sellers.

The commission first met Dec. 12. In its meetings to discuss the rules, the commission decided to allow for 32 dispensaries and five cultivation facilities.

Growers will be chosen by the commission based on the merits of their applications. An application will cost $15,000. Unsuccessful applicants will receive $7,500 back. Successful applicants will have to pay an annual $100,000 licensing fee.

Dispensaries would be allowed to grow up to 50 "mature" plants under the marijuana amendment, though legislation has been filed to give the commission a choice in the matter.

Dispensaries that opt not to grow any marijuana will pay a $2,500 annual licensing fee. Dispensaries that grow the plants will have to pay an annual $25,000 fee.

The commission may need to create more rules, in light of other changes proposed by the Legislature. Lawmakers are considering a bill to mandate that the commission license transporters, distributors and processors of medical marijuana.

Metro on 02/22/2017

Print Headline: Panel approves rules on medical marijuana

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