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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Marijuana Card will open a new clinic this month at 8901 Jenny Lind Rd., Suite 4A in Fort Smith that will provide evaluations for patients seeking treatment with medical cannabis and issue recommendations to those who qualify. ( Thomas Saccente)

FORT SMITH -- An Ohio-based company will set up shop in Fort Smith to offer assessments necessary to obtain a medical marijuana registry ID card.

Arkansas Marijuana Card will open a clinic in the city today that will specialize in providing evaluations for patients seeking treatment with medical cannabis, according to Ashley Slimak, marketing and expansion manager for Arkansas Marijuana Card. The company is a part of Ohio Medical Alliance, headquartered in Independence, Ohio, which also oversees both Ohio Marijuana Card and Missouri Marijuana Card.

"Across Ohio and Missouri, the company currently operates 13 clinics and has assisted over 21,000 patients in registering for treatment with medical marijuana," an Arkansas Marijuana Card news release states.

Connor Shore, president of Ohio Medical Alliance, said the Fort Smith clinic will be located at 8901 Jenny Lind Road, Suite 4A. It will help patients interested in medical cannabis learn more about the state's medical marijuana program and help them get approved should they meet qualifications. Medical marijuana was legalized in Arkansas after residents voted in favor of Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution in November 2016.

"Everyone's familiar with the opioid epidemic, and that started with people seeking pain management, right?" Shore said. "And we see the disastrous effects that having big money pharmaceutical companies push pills on doctors.

"And people have a lot of support that this is an effective way to manage pain. We have patients that leave our office, they feel so happy because they've been made to feel like a criminal their whole life for using a method of pain relief that works for them personally. And so, by giving them these certifications, we allow patients to legitimize their medical treatment, and make them not feel like they are committing a crime just by trying to live a pain-free life."

HOW IT WORKS

As the clinic will not be a dispensary, Shore said no medication will be provided there. Instead, patients will be able to schedule an appointment, and Arkansas Marijuana Card will help them get their medical records documenting their qualifying conditions. Afterward patients would go to the clinic for their evaluation. They would meet with a licensed and certified physician and discuss their medical history, how they might benefit from medical cannabis and how to use it appropriately if they choose to do so.

At that point, Shore said if the physician deems that the patient qualifies for medical cannabis, a recommendation would be issued for the patient to get access to dispensaries and purchase medication. Among the more common qualifying conditions are cancer, glaucoma, hepatitis C, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia. There can also be chronic and debilitating medical conditions in which the doctor deems that the benefits outweigh the risks.

"So it leaves the doctor some leeway to determine if the patient is eligible," Shore said. "If someone has a rare spinal injury that causes chronic pain, the doctor can qualify them even though that condition isn't specifically on the list."

Meg Mirivel, director of communications for the Arkansas Department of Health, said the physician would fill out a form certifying that the patient has one of the 18 qualifying conditions. This form is available on the Arkansas Department of Health website, and would be part of the documentation that a patient would submit to the department either through its online application system or the mail to receive a medical marijuana registry ID card.

The person must also fill out a patient application form and send in a copy of their Arkansas driver's license or state ID card and a $50 fee, Mirivel said. A medical marijuana card is valid for up to a year, after which a patient would need to reapply for one.

The Arkansas Department of Health website states a patient must be at least 18 to qualify for a medical marijuana card as well, or be a minor with parental consent. In addition, state law does not allow members of the Arkansas National Guard or United States military to obtain a card. The department has approved 30,677 medical marijuana cards for qualified patients and caregivers as of Friday.

Any medical or osteopathic physician who is licensed to practice in Arkansas and has a current Drug Enforcement Administration number can complete the physician certification form for a patient, according to the website.

Arkansas Marijuana Card's Fort Smith clinic will likely have two doctors working there part-time, Shore said. The clinic will not be open five days a week at the outset, but the company hopes to reach that goal quickly.

The company charges $240 for an evaluation at its clinics, according to Slimak. This includes the initial appointment with one of its physicians and the cost of the certification, as well as any follow-up appointments the patient needs. The company does not accept medical insurance due to marijuana still being federally illegal.

FUTURE PLANS

Arkansas Marijuana Card, Shore said, also has plans to open clinics in Hot Springs, Jonesboro and Little Rock, with the hope being to have the Little Rock clinic open in the first half of January. The company opened a Fayetteville clinic in October, with it having certified "a few hundred" patients so far.

Destiny Moran, head manager of AR Cannabis Clinic, said the Little Rock-based company will open a clinic at 7612 Rogers Ave., Suite B, in Fort Smith on Dec. 17. It will take patients every Tuesday and Thursday. AR Cannabis Clinic currently has five clinics in Arkansas, with additional locations in Clinton, Fayetteville and Jonesboro to open in 2020.

State Desk on 12/09/2019

Print Headline: Clinic in Fort Smith to assess patients for medical marijuana

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