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Some Arkansas cities say they aren't ready for new medical marijuana laws

by Brian Fanney | July 30, 2017 at 3:32 a.m. | Updated July 31, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.
David Couch (left), the Little Rock-based lawyer who sponsored the voter-approved Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, is shown in this file photo.

Patients are still months away from access to medical marijuana, but some of the laws that go into effect Tuesday affect the dispensaries and cultivation facilities that will provide the drug.

Fifty-one medical marijuana-related bills were filed in this year's regular legislative session, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette analysis. Twenty-five became law. Four have already gone into effect. The remaining 21 go into effect Tuesday.

However, some local governments are having the largest effect on future medical-marijuana availability by issuing temporary bans against dispensaries and cultivators, said David Couch, the Little Rock-based lawyer who sponsored the voter-approved Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment.

"It's a violation of the constitutional amendment, and they're doing it, I think, solely to intimidate people who are considering applying for a cultivation facility or dispensary," Couch said. He added that he is considering filing lawsuits.

[MARIJUANA: Map and charts of marijuana laws by state ]

The Benton City Council approved a 90-day moratorium on dispensaries and cultivators Monday. The Hot Springs Board of Directors adopted a similar moratorium in June but then lifted it in July. The Siloam Springs Board of Directors adopted a 180-day moratorium in June.

Benton Mayor David Mattingly said in an interview that the goal of the moratorium is to take the time to responsibly implement the requirements of the medical-marijuana Amendment.

"Benton is no different than many other municipalities," he said. "We're trying to learn and understand the responsibilities based on the new law. How do you deal with dispensaries, the growth farms and so on?"

Mattingly said city officials -- including some in the Police Department -- have been watching the state's implementation process, and need to sort out details related to zoning requirements and other city functions.

One person has inquired about opening a facility in the city, he said.

"We're just not ready," Mattingly said. "We need some more time, and that's what was the driver for the 90-day moratorium."

City and county governments cannot ban facilities, but citizens can petition for a local-option vote to ban dispensaries and cultivation facilities, under the constitutional amendment approved by voters in November.

The amendment "does not allow a city, incorporated town, or county to prohibit the operation of any dispensaries or cultivation facilities in the city, incorporated town, or county unless such a prohibition is approved at an election," according to its text.

When asked about the provision, Mattingly said: "That has not been anything that has been brought to my attention. There has not been any discussions with me about that subject. I really can't comment."

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is taking applications for dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The applications are due Sept. 18. Commissioners did not set a due date to finish grading the applications because they don't know how many they will receive. Couch has said he believes it will be spring before medical marijuana is available.

Couch said many of the bills passed during the regular legislative session refine the amendment, but none endanger medical-marijuana use in Arkansas.

As a result of one new law -- Act 1024 by Rep. Clint Penzo, R-Springdale -- dispensaries will have to carry vaporizers and hire pharmacists to advise patients.

In the application approved by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, applicants are told: "Dispensaries will be required to hire a pharmacist consultant."

As part of another law -- Act 545 by Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock -- those applying to run a dispensary or cultivation facility will have to undergo a criminal background check conducted by the Identification Bureau of the Arkansas State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A third law -- Act 1100 by Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne -- specifies security requirements for dispensaries and cultivation facilities -- including locks, cameras and alarm systems.

The Arkansas Family Council advocated for House Bill 1391 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, which aimed to allow local governments -- rather than by referendum -- to place the matter on the ballot for a popular vote and allow city councils and county quorum courts to regulate marijuana facilities. The bill did not pass out of committee.

The constitutional amendment specifies that it "does not prohibit a city, incorporated town, or county of this state from enacting reasonable zoning regulations applicable to dispensaries or cultivation facilities, provided that those zoning regulations are the same as those for a licensed retail pharmacy."

A full list of medical marijuana-related bills is available at arkansasonline.com/marijuanabills.

SundayMonday on 07/30/2017

Print Headline: Local bans a medical-marijuana snag

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