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Medical marijuana sales in Arkansas top $6M as patients procure 800 pounds of it

by Hunter Field | August 26, 2019 at 6:58 a.m.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Brenna Hawkins of Bentonville holds a container of medical marijuana Thursday at The Source in Bentonville. She said she has replaced her prescribed pain medicine with a sativa she takes during the day and an indica before bed for pain management from fibromyalgia.

Arkansas medical marijuana sales have eclipsed $6.04 million, the state reported last week, three months after the drug debuted in the Natural State.

In total, more than 800 pounds of cannabis has been legally sold by Arkansas' eight operating dispensaries since the first retailer opened in early May, according to the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. The agency regulates the medical marijuana program.

Arkansas' sales figures have continued to outpace even larger states when their medical cannabis programs were starting.

In July, the state collected $91,213 from the special 4% privilege tax levied on medical marijuana transactions and $77,358 from regular sales tax on the drug, according to the state Department of Finance and Administration.

While the program has taken off, only one-fourth of the state's licensed dispensaries have opened in the six months since the permits were issued.

"As we approach the fourth month of dispensaries in operation, we will soon reach 1,000 total pounds of product sold across the state," Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Doralee Chandler said. "While we are exceedingly pleased to see patients served, our focus remains providing the remaining 24 dispensaries the support and encouragement to begin serving patients as soon as possible. Every patient deserves close, convenient access to a dispensary as this was the reason four locations were licensed in each of the state's eight zones. ABC is prepared to take action in January 2020 should any dispensaries not be operational or in the final stages of preparation. We expect fall to be a busy time for Arkansas' medical marijuana program."

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

The first dispensary opened May 10, more than two years after Arkansas voted to legalize medical marijuana by approving Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution in November 2016.

Under the amendment, patients suffering from one of 18 qualifying conditions may legally purchase, possess and use the drug. It can also be purchased by registered caregivers.

As of Friday, 19,992 medical marijuana cards had been approved by the Arkansas Department of Health. Industry officials expect the patient count to double or triple once the market matures.

Arkansas' $6.04 million in cannabis sales far outpaced initial sales in Ohio, which has nearly triple Arkansas' population. Through the first three months of legalization in Ohio, dispensaries there had sold less than $2.5 million of medical cannabis, according to a Cincinnati Enquirer report, which attributed the slow sales to high prices. The first Ohio dispensary opened in January.

Arkansas has issued five large-scale growing licenses and 32 dispensary licenses. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission was slow to issue those licenses because of a variety of legal and bureaucratic delays.

Since the licenses have been issued, many marijuana companies have been slow to begin operating.

David Couch, the Little Rock attorney who drafted Amendment 98, said the sales figures have been strong but that they could be better if more dispensaries would open. Couch added that additional dispensaries would also drive down prices, which have remained at about $425 per ounce since the first dispensary opened.

He pointed out that many of the unopened dispensaries are managed by out-of-state companies.

"Are they just sitting on it hoping Arkansas will go recreational?" Couch said, referring to ballot measures being proposed for the November 2020 election. "Is Arkansas not a priority for them? Those that have opened seem to be doing good. There's different parts of the state that really need this."

Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, said Friday that regulators are scheduled to inspect Acanza Health Group Dispensary in Fayetteville on Sept. 3. If it passes the inspection, then Acanza will likely be the next dispensary to open, as no other final inspections have been scheduled.

Two of the five licensed cultivation companies remain unopened. Delta Medical Cannabis Co. and Natural State Wellness Enterprises, both of Newport, have projected opening dates before the end of 2019.

Unopened dispensaries have projected a variety of opening dates, but most have said they expect to begin operating in the fall. One dispensary expects to open in January.

Doralee Chandler
Attorney David Couch (left) and Occupy Little Rock member Kaitlin Lott speak after a hearing Friday to determine whether Lott and fellow Occupy member Adam Lansky will get on the ballot in the Little Rock city director elections.

A Section on 08/26/2019

Print Headline: Medical marijuana sales in Arkansas top $6M as patients procure 800 pounds of it

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