Certification for cannabis use added to telemedicine services

This Sept. 15, 2015 file photo shows marijuana plants a few weeks away from harvest in a medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill.
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' medical-marijuana sales have shot up since mid-March, and now patients can obtain doctor approvals without clinic visits.

People seeking the drug for medicinal purposes are allowed to use the "telehealth" or "telemedicine" option, which gives patients the ability to meet with physicians to receive the required certification.

This method is aimed to stem the spread of covid-19 while still providing patients with medical marijuana, officials said.

Additionally, expiration dates on patient ID cards are being extended until the emergency declaration for the coronavirus is concluded, according to state regulators.

Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration, said that March 20 was the "largest single day" of medical-marijuana sales in the state since May, when the first dispensary opened. On that day last month, $565,000 was spent on 92 pounds of products, he said.

Overall, Arkansans have spent $59.56 million on more than 9,400 pounds of medical marijuana as the one-year mark approaches since the first couple of dispensaries started doing business, Hardin said.

Arkansans voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2016, approving Amendment 98 to the constitution. Under the amendment, the drug can be legally possessed and used by certified patients suffering from one of 18 qualifying conditions.

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Legal and bureaucratic snags delayed the opening of the first dispensary until the spring of 2019.

Six of the state's 21 operational dispensaries are within 30 minutes of Little Rock.

Arkansas' highest-grossing dispensary, Green Springs Medical in Hot Springs, was the first such business to exceed 1,000 pounds in sales, according to the latest sales report. The Releaf Center in Bentonville recently joined it as the only dispensaries in Arkansas to hit that mark, Hardin said.

Arkansas Medical Card, a network of clinics specializing in providing evaluations and recommendations for medical marijuana, announced last week that it would begin offering the telemedicine option.

Connor Shore, president of Arkansas Marijuana Card, said such appointments would begin the week of April 19.

He referred to the Health Department's recent announcement that it was authorizing emergency measures to "expand the allowable uses" of telemedicine services.

"These are challenging and uncertain times for everyone, but we're encouraged by the fact that we will be able to continue servicing our patients through telemedicine," Shore stated in a release. "Our patients won't have any disruption to their ongoing care and access to medical marijuana products."

In addition to the 21 licensed dispensaries, there are another 12 in "varying stages of development," Hardin said.

Patients are limited to purchasing up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana every 14 days.

Metro on 04/12/2020

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