Hundreds submit Arkansas medical marijuana application

CBS Newspath

LITTLE ROCK — “This whole time we always imagined that this day would be the busiest and that is very true.”

And a busy day it was at the ABC Board building on Monday. More than 300 would-be growers and distributors of Arkansas’ initial medical marijuana crop flooded the state office building, turning in thousands of pages of paperwork.

“You had people who arrived at 7:15 last night and slept in a lawn chair strictly to be the first to submit their applications this morning.”

But even that didn’t decrease the wait time.  Applicants faced a three-hour wait as their number greatly exceeded the clerks available to review paperwork to ensure it was complete. Those hoping to grow medical marijuana had to pay a $15,000 application fee, while potential distributors paid $7,500. Unsuccessful applicants will have half their money refunded.

Arkansas voters last year approved marijuana use by people with certain medical conditions. The new state Medical Marijuana Commission will review applications after the names of companies and individuals have been redacted and then select up to five growers and 32 distributors. The Arkansas Health Department has approved 1,200 people for a medical marijuana registry, making them eligible to obtain the drug.

Applications from the potential growers and distributors were about 1,000 pages long, on average. Several who dropped off applications elected not to identify themselves publicly, while others spoke openly about why they considered their applications worthy.

“If you can beat us at our game, I give you all the credit in the world,” said Chris Stone, who operates two dispensaries in Illinois. He has teamed with a pair of Arkansas pharmacists and wants to grow marijuana in the rich, agricultural lands near Brinkley and distribute marijuana at a dispensary on the east side of Jonesboro.

He said his firm failed in a previous attempt to win a grower’s permit in Illinois, but took the feedback from that loss to fashion a pair of 1,800-page applications in Arkansas.

“Those with successes in other states probably have a leg up on those who are putting together an application for a first time,” he said.

Approval for medical marijuana passed with 53 percent of the vote last November, but the ballot issue lost in nearly half of the state’s 75 counties.

Jerry Cox, the president of the Arkansas Family Council, which opposed the effort, said his group would help leaders in cities and counties that don’t want marijuana operations nearby by suggesting language for local petitions.

“Over half the counties in Arkansas voted not to approve the medical marijuana measure in the first place.”

But Cox said there are ways for people to stop it from coming in to their communities like starting petitions.

“If a sufficient number of registered voters sign the petition, then the measure goes to a vote.”

He said banning medical marijuana from cities or counties would act in the same way as a wet county turning into a dry county.

“There have been some communities that have expressed angst about there being a marijuana facility in their community. It’s only fair to give them a chance to opt out,” he said. “We have wet and dry counties. Why shouldn’t it be the same for marijuana?”

The earliest a city or county could bring the issue to a vote is November 2018.

Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin said there is no timetable for when applications must be approved or medical marijuana distributed.