Medical marijuana in the Mid-South: Dispensaries still in the works for much of eastern Arkansas

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WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — It’s a growing industry across the country, but the grass isn’t always greener for the Arkansas medical marijuana industry.

It’s been a year since medical marijuana dispensary licenses were awarded to 32 businesses around the state.

Greenlight Dispensary in Helena-West Helena was one of the first to open.

“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.

The renovations required to set up a dispensary are extensive.

Greenlight has more than 30 security cameras, barbed wire fencing and a bio-metrics system that locks the building. There’s also an armed guard on site.

“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.”

Greenlight continues to see business boom since they opened their doors last June. They’re adding staff and enjoying a 4.8-star rating on Google.

One of the strictest laws involving medical marijuana in Arkansas is that no one is let inside this building unless they’re a card carrying member. WREG gave a Go-Pro camera to Stuart for a tour.

Last summer, Arkansas dispensaries offered just two different marijuana products. Now, they offer more than a dozen.

But there have been issues across the state. The Medical Marijuana Commission said 15 of the original 32 businesses that got approval last year still aren’t open.

“I would say real estate would be the number-one issue, followed by weather,” Hardin said. “You have others pointing to medical issues, but the commission, especially over the last month, has voiced some extreme frustration.”

Eastern Arkansas is one of the most under-served areas in the state. In West Memphis, three dispensaries were approved, but one year later, there’s just one unfinished building to show for them.

“With the developers and their time and probably licensing with the state and not the city, that probably held them back,” West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon said.

The state said the delays could factor into decisions when businesses apply for reinstatement starting in April.

“They’re going to have to sit down with each group and say, ‘OK, you’re not open. Tell us about it. What’s holding you up, what’s the reason?'” Hardin said.

Even with road blocks, the Arkansas Department of Health approved around 40,000 medical marijuana cards and sold more than 6,000 pounds since the first business opened last May.

West Memphis leaders expect Body and Mind Dispensary to be open by March, with the other two making progress.

“Good things come to those who wait,” McClendon said. “We would’ve liked to have them earlier, but right now they’re moving pretty quickly.”

Many hope increased availability and education will see that number grow higher.

“Imagine being restless, in pain, unable to sleep, and then you actually get something that works for you, and it helps, and it’s changing your lifestyle drastically,” Stuart said. “Well, those patients come back and report to us, and say thank you so much.”

“It drives in more people, helps to build our city as well, and the tax revenue is definitely a point for West Memphis,” McClendon said.

“It means a lot,” Hardin said. “Not only the tax revenue that comes in, but the jobs that are created.”

Another dispensary has been cleared to open in Little Rock.

State officials said overall, medical marijuana sales are expected to surpass $40 million and 6,000 pounds this week. A detailed report will be issued Friday.

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