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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — In this Nov. 30, 2018 photo, medical marijuana dispensary owner Chance Gilbert displays some of the marijuana he's grown at the Oklahoma Roots dispensary in the bedroom community of Shawnee, about 40 miles east of Oklahoma City. The roll out of statewide medical and recreational programs typically is a grindingly slow process that can take years. Not so in Oklahoma, a Bible Belt state that moved with lightning speed once voters approved medical cannabis in June, 2018. (AP Photo/Sean Murphy)

An Arkansas Children's Hospital nurse was appointed to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission on Monday -- two days before the body plans to consider applications for the state's first dispensary licenses.

Justin Smith, 38, of Cabot will serve the remaining two years of the term of former commission member James Miller, who resigned last month to focus on his family and business.

Smith and recently appointed commission member Kevin Russell are both expected to attend and vote in their first meeting on Wednesday. The meeting was scheduled for the five-member commission to review a consulting firm's scores of the 200 applications for the state's first 32 medical cannabis dispensary permits and potentially vote on whether to certify those scores.

Smith manages patient care in Arkansas Children's neuroscience unit, said Hilary DeMillo, the hospital's media relations manager.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said Smith supported the clinical use of cannabis, and that his decade of clinical experience was key to the appointment.

"I feel like he's got the right experience, and some of that's going to be beneficial to the commission, particularly, with the state that it's at now," Dismang said. "He's eager to help and wants to make sure the program is implemented as soon as possible."

The Medical Marijuana Commission was created by Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution, which voters approved in November 2016 to legalize marijuana for medical use. The amendment authorized the commission to issue licenses to grow and sell the controversial drug.

Legal and regulatory delays have stalled the program's implementation, but regulators expect the first dispensary to begin selling medical cannabis in April.

The first five growing licenses were issued in July, and those companies have begun constructing their greenhouses across the state.

If the commission on Wednesday votes to ratify Public Consulting Group's dispensary application scores, the first selling permits could be issued as early as next week.

The scores were released last month after the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, which houses the Medical Marijuana Commission, received a deluge of public records requests for the Boston-based consultant's evaluations.

The commission was initially scheduled to meet Dec. 19 to review the scores, but that meeting was rescheduled to give other new commissioners additional time to learn their new roles.

Commission members are appointed by the governor and leaders of both chambers of the General Assembly.

Smith said he's seen cannabis derivatives work effectively in the treatment of children with epilepsy.

"I've seen it work with my own eyes," Smith said on Monday. "When you see that, it kind of changes your mind and perspective on things. Especially in my case, when you see it work on children, you can't really deny it has some benefit with proper application."

Smith said he was passionate about the subject and honored to have the opportunity to perform his civic duty on the commission. He added that he hopes his 11 years of working in pediatric care with bring a unique perspective to the commission.

Last week, the Arkansas Department of Health announced that it would begin issuing patient ID cards next month to the nearly 7,000 patients who, so far, have been approved to have one of 18 qualifying conditions.

The cards are required to purchase or possess medical marijuana in Arkansas, and they'll also enable Arkansans to apply for temporary marijuana permits in other states, like neighboring Oklahoma, which recently launched its own medical cannabis program.

However, state officials, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson, have discouraged patients from transporting cannabis back to Arkansas because it's a federal crime to cross state lines with the drug. They've also raised questions about the legality of possessing the drug in Arkansas if it wasn't purchased from a dispensary licensed in the Natural State.

Metro on 01/08/2019

Print Headline: Pediatric care nurse to join Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission

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