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Arkansas Continues to See Slow Rollout of its Medical Marijuana Program

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It has been about four years since voters in Arkansas legalized medical marijuana, and just over half of the state-approved dispensaries are open for business. It took some time for things to get to the point of approving dispensaries in the first place, with licenses finally being issued in January 2019. Since then, it seems it has been one issue after another that keeps preventing these businesses from opening for sales – in particular, the strict building requirements.

“This building met all of the requirements, and the most important thing which helped speed up the process was that it was already standing. So we just made renovations to it,” said Holley Stuart, general manager of Greenlight Dispensary.

Some dispensaries have had to start from scratch. Others, like Greenlight Dispensary – which was the first to open their doors to patients – only needed to make renovations to an existing structure. Since Greenlight opened their doors, a little over half (17 of 32) of the other approved dispensaries have opened. The most recent of those is Harvest House Cannabis and Natural Relief Dispensary.

“Literally every square foot of that dispensary will be under surveillance,” said Scott Hardin with the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission. “Every facility has a vault. They’re making sure that everything works and they’re checking once, twice, three, four times.”

Even with only 15 dispensaries open until recently, the state has already sold almost 6,000 pounds of medical marijuana and have brought in a total of $38.09 million since May, according to the Department of Finance and Administration. This is just the beginning for Arkansas, which has approved 32 out of the 33 licenses they plan to issue, with the constitutional amendment passed by voters allowing for up to a maximum of 40 shops throughout the state. 

Most of the remaining businesses say they should be open for business by the middle of 2020. But, these same businesses also said they would be ready to open before the end of 2019. The Medical Marijuana Commission continues to get excuses for shops not being prepared to begin sales to patients – and are now saying that poor progress now might impact a business’ likelihood of having their license reinstated in June when they expire. 

It seems as though even state officials are beginning to become frustrated on behalf of the nearly 40,000 patients that are looking for more variety and more convenient dispensary locations. Perhaps the potential threat of not having a license renewed is something that will force the remaining 15 approved dispensaries to do what needs to be done to open their doors and start serving patients. 

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