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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE A long line forms Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, during the first day of operations for The ReLeaf Center, a medical marijuana dispensary located at 9400 E. McNelly Rd. in Bentonville, the first of its kind in Northwest Arkansas.

Arkansas will see a boom of medical marijuana dispensaries opening this fall, according to a survey of future dispensaries by state regulators.

The list of prospective opening dates, compiled by Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division officials, suggests that most of the 25 unopened cannabis retailers will open in September or October.

Dispensary licenses were issued in February, but only seven have opened to the public, frustrating patients and state officials overseeing the implementation of the medical marijuana program in Arkansas.

The list of expected opening dates was created for members of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, which controls cannabis growing and selling licenses, and it was provided to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette under a public-records request.

The commission chairwoman, Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, has been vocal about the lack of urgency shown by dispensary operators to begin selling the drug to qualified patients.

"For the record, it should be very helpful for the public and the state of Arkansas to know where we are and where your licensed dispensaries and cultivators are in the process," Henry-Tillman said at a meeting last week. "So the product is available for the chronic diseases it is approved for. I think people want to know where we are and be updated monthly."

The list of prospective opening dates also indicates that the remaining two cannabis growers that aren't yet in operation should be cultivating by year's end.

[RELATED: See complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of medical marijuana in Arkansas at arkansasonline.com/marijuana]

Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution was approved by voters in 2016, and it legalized medical cannabis to be purchased and used by patients who suffer from one of 18 qualifying conditions.

The amendment also created a limited number of cultivation and dispensary licenses, setting up the commission to award those licenses. The commission further limited the number of available cannabis permits to five growing licenses and 32 dispensary licenses.

The first legal medical marijuana transaction occurred May 10 -- more than two years after the amendment was ratified.

The initial delays came because commissioners took longer than expected to score the nearly 100 applications for medical marijuana growing permits. Lawsuits filed by disgruntled cultivation applicants delayed the process by several additional months.

The commission then decided to contract with an out-of-state consultant to score the approximately 200 applications for dispensary permits.

Since those permits were issued in February, some dispensary companies have missed targeted opening dates for various reasons, including poor weather, expired land-purchase agreements and zoning disputes with city governments.

Seven dispensaries are open for business. Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, said the Bentonville dispensary The Source (formerly called the Arkansas Medicinal Source Patient Center) passed its final inspection and should open this week.

The seven dispensaries that have opened since May 10 are at Hot Springs (which has two), Clinton, Helena-West Helena, Hensley, Bentonville and Mountain View.

Randy Bynum, an attorney for the Acanza Health Group dispensary, told the commission last week that the Washington County dispensary hoped to open by Labor Day.

"They're anxious to get open," Bynum said.

"Your state is as well," Henry-Tillman replied.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Division said last week that it expects dispensaries to make significant progress by the outset of next year. Hardin said that if a dispensary isn't open by late January, then regulators are prepared to take action.

A handful of dispensaries said they'd open by the end of the year; only one -- THC RX of West Memphis -- said it would open as late as January.

Dispensary licenses were issued in eight regional zones, with each zone containing four dispensaries. Zone 5, comprising Pulaski, Faulkner, White and Lonoke counties, has yet to see a dispensary open to the public.

The two Little Rock retailers -- Natural State Wellness Dispensary and Grassroots OPCO -- expect to open later this month and in late September, respectively, according to the state regulators' list.

Harvest Cannabis Dispensary of Conway projects a mid-September opening, and Natural Relief Dispensary of Sherwood expects to open in September or October.

Zone 3, which comprises 14 northeast Arkansas counties, would be the last region to see a dispensary, with the first opening not expected until "October/November," according to the Alcoholic Beverage Control list.

The commission last week also approved several name changes, ownership-structure tweaks and a location change.

It permitted Noah's Ark dispensary to move to 3213 N. West Ave. in El Dorado. The retailer's original address was 3955 Mount Holly Road, also in El Dorado.

It approved the following name changes:

• Fiddler's Green is now Fiddler's Green Medical Marijuana Dispensary.

• Valentine Holdings LLC is now Purspirit Cannabis Co.

• Arkansas Medicinal Source Patient Center is now The Source.

Photo by Staton Breidenthal
Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman.
Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, is shown in this photo.
Photo by Cary Jenkins
Randy Bynum

A Section on 08/12/2019

Print Headline: State gets update on budding medical marijuana dispensaries

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Archived Comments

  • BigRed501
    August 12, 2019 at 6:33 a.m.

    "The commission chairwoman, Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, has been vocal about the lack of urgency shown by dispensary operators to begin selling the drug to qualified patients."

    Where was the "urgency" when the commission spent the better part of 2 years before they granted any licenses?

  • JIMBOB47
    August 12, 2019 at 6:33 a.m.

    I would hope that 'SOMEONE' is paying attention to the THC content of these 'products'. A recent study from the Colorado Pediatric Center showed that MANY emergency room visits by children is showing HIGH concentrates of THC - primarily from edibles. The stuff being sold now is as much as 21% to 100% more THC content than was sold in the past. These people who are advocates of 'medicinal' (won't be long until it is 'recreational') MJ should take notice of the concentration levels that will definitely impact the users AND their children.

  • RBolt
    August 12, 2019 at 6:45 a.m.

    jimbo, your observations about dosage obviously apply to almost any medication. Heck, one can even overdose on water.

  • 23cal
    August 12, 2019 at 7:05 a.m.

    Regarding specifically "I would hope that 'SOMEONE' is paying attention to the THC content of these 'products'." I would hope so also. If no one is doing so, then a better process should be put in place to do so. However, it would be ridiculous to expect a perfect testing process for a program which took three years of bumbling incompetence by the state to get off the ground at all.
    *
    Whenever I read fear mongering such as Jimbob's, I take a moment and reflect: In the United States, the use of cannabis for medical purposes is legal in 33 states, four (out of five) permanently inhabited U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, as of January 2019. The recreational use of cannabis is legalized in 11 states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington), the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam. Another 15 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have decriminalized.
    *
    If any of these states were experiencing significant problems from legalization, they would be hotfooting to repeal their favorable laws.
    *
    Not only are NONE of them hotfooting to repeal, each year more states are passing legalization.....and eight more states have legislation pending. Oh....and it is products, not 'products'.

  • JIMBOB47
    August 12, 2019 at 7:35 a.m.

    RBOLT & 23CAL - it is not fearmongering. I watched a report on the news (CBS, btw)then went to the multiple medical websites from which these studies were done. It just the facts. Just search pediatric studies emergency room statistics and read for yourself. The lead physician interviewed for this report just happens to be from Colorado. He is warning users about children having access to edible THC and he has the statistics to prove it. I posted it because I think most are not paying attention to the warning signs.

  • RBolt
    August 12, 2019 at 8:29 a.m.

    Although I can understand why some might, jumbo, I never accused you of fear mongering. I merely pointed out that what you complained about specific to cannabis applies broadly to other substances. I do wonder why you chose to focus specifically on cannabis, and your unnecessary misuse of apostrophes does imply a particular agenda.

  • glow
    August 12, 2019 at 9:09 a.m.

    Children's brains are at risk and their lives with drugged out parents. Many adults have already damaged theirs with drugs and alcohol.

  • 23cal
    August 12, 2019 at 10:05 a.m.

    Jimbob:
    When you use 'products', instead of just products with no scare quotation marks, it certainly appears to be fear mongering. When you fail to note that Colorado has introduced new rules to address children getting into edibles, it appears to be slanted fear mongering.

  • FollowDaMoney
    August 12, 2019 at 10:31 a.m.

    Can someone please put their hand on Field's shoulder and let him know it's okay to write an article about cannabis without describing it as pot or making a pun. It's okay to be serious and treat this with the same respect you would any other issue, Hunter.

  • GeneralMac
    August 12, 2019 at 11:41 a.m.

    23Cal...10:05.....

    "Colorado has introduced NEW RULES to address children getting into edibles "

    Seems you are CONFIRMING JIMBOB47's claims.

    If it were NOT a problem in Colorado, there would be no need for "introdycing NEW rules" for a non existing problem.

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