State to issue pot dispensaries last 2 licenses

Panel decides locations sparse in 2 portions of state

FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2019 file photo, marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif.

State regulators Wednesday decided they will issue the two remaining medical marijuana dispensary licenses allowed under Arkansas' constitutional amendment, ultimately raising the state's total number of dispensaries to 40.

Amendment 98, the constitutional change approved by voters in 2016, allows for up to 40 dispensaries spread across eight geographic zones in the state. Thirty-eight have been issued, and in February members of the state Medical Marijuana Commission declined to issue the remaining two on the basis that the applications had expired before the meeting.

Three of the members on the commission in February have since been replaced by new appointees.

On Wednesday, commissioners voted to open the remaining two licenses in Zone 6, which covers a lower west-central portion of the state; and Zone 8, which covers the state's southwest. The two zones are contiguous.

The commission brought up the topic of the licenses after viewing a map showing data on patients and dispensary locations throughout the state.

Chairman James Miller said he would be supportive of issuing the remaining licenses because there are fewer dispensaries in Southwest Arkansas than in other areas of the state.

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

Commissioner J.P. Mobley said she didn't think the discrepancy was intentional.

"I don't think that that was done to be unfair to Southwest Arkansas, it just looks like the demand was not there as much as in our previous discussions," Mobley said.

Commissioner Kevin Case of Little Rock made the motion to issue the remaining licenses, which Commissioner Reggie Thomas seconded. There was no audible opposition.

At their meeting in August, the commission will address how to select which businesses will be issued the remaining licenses.

The options include opening a new application period, as well as going back to previously submitted dispensary applications, though it is not clear whether those applications remain active.

Opening a new application period would require a rule change necessitating a public comment period and legislative approval. That process would take at least a couple of months, commission spokesman Scott Hardin said.

Miller said he would like to see all of the options "on the table" at the next meeting.

Miller, Case and Thomas replaced former commission members Travis Story, Ronda Henry-Tillman and Justin Smith.

Of the 38 dispensary licenses that have been issued, 36 of those businesses are in operation, according to Hardin. Three have opened in the past month: Hash and Co. in Pine Bluff, Natural Root Wellness in Fayetteville and The Treatment Cannabis Dispensary in Pine Bluff.