Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: No consensus reached on cannabis-grower permits

Read the full story at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

LITTLE ROCK — Lawmakers on Tuesday questioned whether there’s a shortage of medical marijuana in Arkansas ahead of a looming deadline to award two outstanding cultivation licenses.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission has until July 10 to decide whether to expand the number of licensed marijuana cultivators from six to eight — the maximum number allowed under the constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, which voters approved in 2016.

If no additional licenses are awarded before the deadline, any applicants on a waiting list for a license will be removed until the commission decides to start the bidding process over from scratch.

The Medical Marijuana Commission has one final meeting scheduled Tuesday before the deadline.

After nearly three hours of debate however, lawmakers on the Legislative Council’s state agencies and governmental affairs committee failed to reach a resolution as to what they believe the commission should do.

The chairman of the committee, Sen. Ronald Caldwell, R-Wynne, said it hasn’t been determined whether lawmakers will meet again before the deadline to discuss the issue.

Several committee members expressed frustration at the commission, which they said kept insufficient track of data to determine whether the crops from the current licensees were enough to sustain the state’s more than 60,000 patients.

Five cultivators have been licensed, but only three are currently selling cannabis to dispensaries. A sixth was approved for a license last week after the commission determined there was sufficient need.

“You either have enough or you don’t,” said Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock. “If you have enough, then what’s that based on?”

The two applicants who are next in line to receive licenses to grow the drug also testified Tuesday and leveled accusations against Commissioner Travis Story, who they said failed to recuse himself from decisions that benefited one of the successful applicants, Osage Creek Cultivation, after doing legal work for the company’s owners.

Story couldn’t be reached for comment on Tuesday. His former law partner, Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, sits on the committee however, and defended Story, saying the family that owns Osage Creek was primarily his clients, not Story’s.

Ballinger said those on the wait list for a cultivation license were making allegations of corruption as part of a last-ditch effort to get the commission to extend the final two licenses.

“When you start dragging my name, and my friend’s name in the dirt… you guys all look like you are willing to do anything in order to try and get where you’re at, where you want to be,” Ballinger said.

Later in the hearing, a motion was made by the Senate side of the committee to make a public recommendation that the commission award the remaining licenses. By that point however, only five Senate members of the committee remained.

Ballinger voted against the motion, ensuring it would fail despite three affirmative votes (the motion needed five votes to pass).

Cannabis Dispensary: Arkansas Regulators Debate Whether to Expand Number of Licensed Medical Cannabis Cultivators

Read the full story at Cannabis Dispensary.

Arkansas regulators are considering whether to expand the number of licensed medical cannabis cultivators in the state from six to eight, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette report.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is up against a July 10 deadline to make a decision, the news outlet reported, and lawmakers took up the issue June 23 to discuss whether there is a shortage of medical cannabis in the state, although no decision was reached.

Regulators can issue a maximum of eight cultivation licenses under the voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized medical cannabis in 2016.

The Medical Marijuana Commission has one more meeting scheduled before the deadline, and if no additional licenses are awarded, any applicants on the waiting list for a license will be removed and the commission will have to start the bidding process over from scratch, should it decide in the future that more cultivators are needed, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

TB&P: Poll: Support grows for medical marijuana expansion

Read the full story at Talk Business & Politics.

Despite a slow rollout of medical cannabis in Arkansas, public support for the industry is growing.

A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll of likely statewide voters shows the issue has gained momentum since its passage with 53% support in November 2016. In a survey conducted June 9-10, 2020, voters voiced a double-digit increase in approval.

Q: Do you support or oppose the use of medical marijuana in Arkansas?

67.5% Support
20.5% Oppose
12% Unsure

Arkansas lawmakers and regulators were slow to develop and implement the rules for issuing cultivation and dispensary licenses, and the process was hampered with a series of legal actions. Eventually, licenses were issued and over the past year more distribution outlets have opened.

As of June 3, the state of Arkansas reported that $86.38 million in medical marijuana sales have taken place cumulatively. At least 40% of first year medical marijuana sales occurred since March 1, according to state officials.

“We wanted to test attitudes on whether or not the legalization of medical cannabis is gaining or losing support. It appears that more Arkansans are supportive of the issue now that it is in the marketplace,” said Roby Brock, Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief. “We also wanted to see if there is support for making medical marijuana more available through the issuance of expanded licenses and are voters ready to legalize recreational marijuana.”

The latest survey of 869 statewide likely voters was taken on Tuesday, June 9 and Wednesday, June 10 and has a margin of error of +/-3.3%. The following question tested potential expansion of marijuana in Arkansas. It was only asked of the 67.5% who supported medical marijuana.

Q: Recently, there have been significant increases in both the amount of medical marijuana sold in Arkansas and the number of medical marijuana patients with qualifying conditions. Knowing this, would you support:

23.5% Increasing the number of licensed medical marijuana cultivation and dispensaries
19% Legalizing recreational marijuana in Arkansas
46.5% Both
11% Unsure

“It would appear there is support for increasing licenses for medical marijuana,” Brock said. “Also, among the two-thirds of those supporting medical marijuana, a majority support recreational marijuana, which could be on the November ballot.”

Times Record: Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission should release additional approved licenses

Read the full story at the Times Record.

With only five medical marijuana cultivation facilities in Arkansas operating — two of which have still not rolled out the product — the people who have legal cards to use cannabis as a medicine for a variety of ailments are paying double the price as those in our neighboring state of Oklahoma.

In our report Thursday to highlight the wide gap between prices for medical marijuana in Arkansas and Oklahoma, we showed how simple economics is at play in the pricing.

The supply is higher in Oklahoma because they have more cultivation facilities. There are almost more legal cultivation sites in the small town of Poteau just across the border in LeFlore County than the entire state of Arkansas. Although a majority of the 33 licensed dispensaries in Arkansas are allowed to grow 50 plants, it does not make up for the difference.

Oddly enough, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is authorized to add seven more dispensary licenses and three more cultivation facility licenses that would allow people to get to work and help bring down prices in Arkansas. Economics again plays into this. One of the licenses approved for cultivation is in Fort Smith.

Storm Nolan of River Valley Relief Cultivation, said the release of their license from the MMC would mean up to 50 jobs for the city, with a roughly $50 million economic impact. It would also help bring down the prices in Arkansas.

It would not be too surprising to hear that the higher prices in Arkansas have sent many medical marijuana card holders back to the black market for their medicine of choice. It was certainly not surprising to hear from a former Oklahoma dispensary worker that he knows firsthand that many Arkansans have been venturing across the state line to pick up green meds because the prices are much cheaper.

A temporary license for Oklahoma allows an individual with a medical license from another state to legally buy and use medical marijuana in Oklahoma. A license there will cost the patient $100 and be valid for 30 days. A temporary card for Arkansas is only $50, but the price for cannabis is higher in Arkansas by double in comparison to Oklahoma. The price difference is made up with about 5 grams of cannabis.

If someone were to purchase a gram of medical cannabis in Arkansas they would be paying double the amount than they would if they were in Oklahoma. A gram in Oklahoma costs about $10 depending on the quality, but a gram of that same quality would be $20 in Arkansas.

We hope the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is taking this into consideration and will soon release the remaining licenses to those who were approved. The voters authorized them to do it. And it is the smart thing to do, both economically and morally.