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story.lead_photo.caption This Sept. 15, 2015 file photo shows marijuana plants a few weeks away from harvest in a medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill.

Arkansas' first legal growers of medical marijuana expect to make the drug available next April.

Two of the five companies licensed to grow medical cannabis -- Bold Team of Cotton Plant and Natural State Medicinals Cultivation of Jefferson County -- testified before the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission on Wednesday that construction at both facilities was well underway, and they expected to plant the first seeds around the start of 2019.

The other three companies -- Natural State Wellness Enterprises of Newport, Delta Medical Cannabis Co. of Newport and Osage Creek Cultivation of Berryville -- estimated that they'd first have the drug ready for the marketplace between spring and summer of next year.

Officials from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, which houses the commission, expect the first dispensaries to open by April. Dispensaries are allowed to grow a small amount of medical marijuana, but most of their supply is expected to come from licensed cultivators, who can only grow the drug and not sell it directly to patients.

"The main thing is once [cultivation facilities] are in place, that the dispensaries are open," said Dr. Carlos Roman, a commissioner. "And hopefully this process goes forward. Hopefully, that times out about right."

Arkansans legalized medical marijuana in the November 2016 general election, approving Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution. However, legal and regulatory delays have stalled the implementation of a medical marijuana program in the state.

Cultivation licenses weren't issued until early July, and at least one growing company has yet to break ground on construction because of concerns about additional legal challenges.

Delta Medical Cannabis Co. asked the five-member commission Wednesday to let it move its facility about a mile and a half to avoid any legal conflicts resulting from its location near Arkansas State University-Newport.

State Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, has requested an attorney general's opinion about whether ASU-Newport should be considered a school under Amendment 98. Under the amendment, medical marijuana facilities must be at least 3,000 feet from the nearest church, school or day care.

Both Natural State Wellness and Delta Medical planned to locate within 3,000 feet of ASU-Newport. The commission's own rules specifically exempt colleges and universities from the definition of "school." However, some have argued that ASU-Newport should be considered a school under Amendment 98 because it hosts students from nearby high schools for certain vocational and concurrent classes.

Don Parker, president of Delta Medical Cannabis, told the commission that the company was requesting the move out of an abundance of caution to avoid any further delays.

"We want to take off as much risk as we can," Parker said.

The commission voted to table a decision on the move until Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issues her opinion on the matter as requested by Sample. That opinion is in the final stages of drafting, said Deputy Attorney General Brian Bowen, who also provides legal counsel to the commission. He said the opinion will likely be released in the coming weeks.

Boyce Hamlet, director of the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement Division, said his division also expects in the coming weeks to complete its investigations of 15 complaints lodged against the five cultivation licensees.

Most of the cultivation companies are constructing their growing facilities in phases, allowing them to begin growing medical cannabis before construction is totally complete.

The groups said they will grow anywhere from 13 to 25 strains of cannabis, each with varying levels of certain cannabinoids (like THC and CBD) to treat different qualifying medical conditions.

"We're going to make sure that we have strains for every ailment that's part of the amendment," said Danny Brown, CEO of Bold Team.

Under Arkansas law, patients with one of 18 conditions can legally buy medical cannabis, which must be grown in Arkansas. The conditions are: cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Tourette syndrome, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe arthritis, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer's disease, cachexia, peripheral neuropathy, severe nausea, seizures, severe muscle spasms and intractable pain that hasn't responded to ordinary treatments for at least six months.

An official from the Arkansas Department of Health, which issues the Medical Marijuana Registry ID cards that patients will need to obtain the drug, said 6,457 patients had been approved. Among those patients, 31 percent are chronic-pain patients, 16 percent suffer from severe arthritis and 10 percent deal with PTSD.

The cultivation companies expect the number of registered patients to skyrocket once the drug is available. Several estimated that up to 20,000 patients would be in the marketplace before 2020.

It takes 90 to 120 days from the time medical cannabis is planted to get it to a dispensary, the growers testified Wednesday.

Public Consulting Group, the Boston-based firm selected to score the 203 dispensary applications, remains on track to finish its evaluations between Dec. 7 and 14, Bowen said.

The commission scheduled a Dec. 19 meeting with Public Consulting Group.

Photo by Arkansas Secretary of State
State Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, is shown in this file photo.

A Section on 11/29/2018

Print Headline: Medical marijuana availability in state expected by April

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  • Nodmcm
    November 29, 2018 at 5:17 a.m.

    All of the folks who get medical marijuana cards will have to get rid of their firearms. Even with a state card or credential to buy medical marijuana, under federal law it will remain a felony to possess firearms while using marijuana. Attempting to purchase a firearm while using marijuana, even legally under Arkansas state law, will be a federal felony also, so you can't buy any guns anymore. Also, you might still be drug tested at work, and if you fail the drug test, you will be fired without recourse. It will be interesting to see how this plays out when the marijuana starts to be sold this spring.

  • skeptic1
    November 29, 2018 at 8:08 a.m.

    Nodmcm...federal marijuana laws are generally not being enforced. The feds won't even get involved in possible sale cases unless the amount is over 100lbs. I doubt guns will be an issue they have not been in other states. Companies that fire someone with a prescription for legitimate health reasons may find themselves being sued under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

  • BunnyW
    November 29, 2018 at 8:22 a.m.

    Arkansas seems to consider itself a law unto its own. Consider the Child Protective Services routine violation of kids and family's civil rights. Judge Thomas E Smith of Bentonville, AR signed of on a blanket search warrant without that pesky little probable cause requirement in the US Constitution. Stephanie 'Sonny' Graham, CPS worker in Fayetteville, AR violated my sons' 5th amendment rights, and DHS violates our family's due process rights when Judge Thomas e Smith found us guilty without bothering to hear our defense. 8 months later, case overturned on appeal...after they had put our family through hell. So perhaps Arkansas will give the feds the finger for cannabis like they do for CPS abuses.

  • skeptic1
    November 29, 2018 at 8:42 a.m.

    BunnyW...DCFS in Arkansas was under investigation in 2016 that resulted in the director being removed only to be replaced by another DCFS entrenched employee. Hold tight because investigations are beginning again because despite the new legislation we sill have over 5,000 children in foster care with DCFS receiving tens of millions more than they were before in subsidies from the federal government. The 8th circuit ruled in August that an investigator that lies or seizes children without abuse loses their qualified immunity, we need to get the state constitution amended so DCFS itself can be held accountable for their outright criminal acts.

  • JPRoland
    November 29, 2018 at 8:48 a.m.

    Thank you! I'm just glad to get some relief. When you have a medical condition that causes your skin to crawl and makes you nauseous cannabis is the mildest form of relief. I have had a .38 caliber pistol in my drawer for 45 years and I've never had to use it. If I have to give up my gun in order to feel better, then I will. I don't believe drug testing will be an issue once it is a prescription medication. Are you tested for Valium, Zanax or Oxycodone? Those are all way stronger and addictive.

  • mrcharles
    November 29, 2018 at 9:39 a.m.

    If you read most translations of an ancient collection of short stories , though they differ in many ways, you can figure out the plants were given to us to use as we see fit, having dominion over mere plants and animals. This would seem to make a case that any regulations or law on plants would go against this nation's judeo-chritian founding to do biblical things. I would think hobby lobby [ a mixed entity of 2 kinds of people, one a breathing carbon based unit and one a legal creation entity] and chicken filler up , would spend their legal resources in allowing the "word" to be made part of the government's hands off policy on the highest part of the law, religious liberty to use as a claim that you are being discriminated against by claiming rights from texts that contradict other texts.

    I am not saying we ban coke or coffee due to mormon beliefs, or allow open heart surgery by qualified celestial decoders to offer up hearts to get it to rain in droughts, but just to keep religious discrimination alive by just saying the words.

    Or we could just go to Vietnam, Republic of , where they say the plants reach the sky and get some that will put a smile on your face and a hankering for donuts. Guns they say were not a problem in that there country, as everyone needed one or two or three.

  • dunk7474
    November 29, 2018 at 10:10 a.m.

    Asa will keep this from happening, as he continues to tell the people to go screw themselves.

  • hah406
    November 29, 2018 at 10:20 a.m.

    Skeptic, you are wrong about drug testing at work in certain instances. There are what are known as highly safety sensitive positions. Physicians, nurses, lawyers, truck drivers, train engineers, pilots, air traffic controllers, police officers, etc. None of them are allowed to work with marijuana or any other drug in their system. Even say they were given some pain pills after a minor surgery. They cannot work until that drug is completely out of their system, even though the drug was for legitimate medical need. One mistake by someone like that can be fatal to many. There are and will be no exceptions made for people in those positions under the ADA.

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