Arkansas Finance Department Shows Medical Cannabis Program Growth

Now celebrating its fifth year since medical cannabis sales began, a new report shows increases in sales and cardholder numbers.
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A new report from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) shares a variety of facts about the state’s medical cannabis program, which launched in May 2019.

According to the Arkansas Advocate, dozens of storefronts have opened over the past five years, and an estimated 102,000 medical cannabis patient cardholders have approved.

In total sales, medical cannabis has generated $1.1 billion since 2019 but for this year alone, the state collected approximately $68 million (between January through March), and just $45 million between February and March.

The report shows that $31.32 million was collected in medical cannabis annual revenue in 2019, which jumped to $181.8 million in 2020, $264.9 million in 2021, $276.3 million in 2022, and finally $282 million in 2023.

Although sales reported in 2024 so far (approximately $2 million less than in 2023), there has been an increase in products sold, with 13,804 sold in 2023 and 17,240 in 2024 so far. This noteworthy observation, according to Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration spokesperson Scott Hardin. “That’s a reflection of the more competitive pricing, which is great news for patients,” Hardin said.

An estimated $127 million in cannabis tax revenue has been collected over the past five years (approximately $5 million came from February and March 2024 alone). The law sets aside 4% of cannabis taxes to help provide meals for students who are on free or reduced lunch programs. The amount of cannabis products in pounds has steadily increased over time as well with 4,735 pounds sold in 2019, 28,021 in 2020, 40,347 in 2021, 50,547 in 2022, and 62,227 in 2023.

When medical cannabis sales first began in 2019, only 11,000 patients were approved cardholders. One year later, cardholder numbers increased to approximately 43,000, and finally the most recent cardholder number has surpassed 102,000. “The pace of it has varied, but the fact that we’ve consistently increased to where we are today with more than 100,000—it’s going to be interesting to see going forward if that continues over the next couple of years,” Hardin said. Current cardholder data shows that most patients use medical cannabis for post-traumatic stress disorder, followed by intractable pain.

An estimated 53%, or 92,494 cardholders, are women, according to data reported in June 2023. Additionally, patients between the ages of 25-44 hold the most cards than any other age range, and in terms of race, 84% of cardholders are white.

The DFA doesn’t show sales data for April at the moment, but Hardin noted that $2 million in sales were collected on 4/20 alone, which is three times more than the daily average (about $750,000).

Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association president, Bill Paschall, has become a mainstay in cannabis policy and regulations. He told the Arkansas Advocate that he has often spent days chatting with legislators to keep them up to speed with what’s going on in the world of weed.”

Although Paschall didn’t have any experience in medical cannabis previously, he has spent the past five years understanding the industry. One of his most important observations is that medical cannabis in Arkansas hasn’t led to any harmful effects on society. “The fears that people expressed when this first passed in 2016 have not come to bear,” said Paschall. “We’ve not seen social upheaval or spikes in kids with drug issues due to medical marijuana. … The industry is well regulated in Arkansas, and because it’s well regulated the folks who buy medical marijuana can have confidence in what they’re buying.”

Natural Relief Dispensary owner David Berman manages the second top performing dispensary in the state, having sold 1,067 pounds of cannabis products in February and March 2024. According to Berman, a majority of the products sold at his dispensary is flower. “Most of our patients are just used to that consumption method,” Berman said. “But as our market matures, we’re educating them on the other consumption methods like edibles, vape cartridges and concentrates.”

Currently, Arkansas allows for a maximum of 40 dispensaries statewide, while only 38 operating dispensaries. The remaining two slots for dispensary licenses have been delayed for approval to do recent litigation.

First involves Green Springs Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which had its license revoked on May 2. The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division (ABC) stated that multiple violations, including selling 1,800 products that had expired, as well as failure to keep the processing area clean and sanitary, and more. “When a dispensary ignores warnings, violations and guidance offered by ABC, the only remaining option is revocation,” said ABC division director Christy Bjornson. “We anticipate an appeal and look forward to presenting our case to the board.”  

Green Springs Medical Marijuana Dispensary owner Dragan Vicentic told the Arkansas Advocate that he plans to appeal the decision. “I thought the fine amount would be reduced because of my satisfactory explanation, and the next thing I knew, the director asked for a revocation of the license, which I thought was very extreme,” Vicentic said.

Arkansas advocates are working on expanding the state medical cannabis law through the ballot measure called “The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Expansion Initiative.” If the initiative is included on the November 2024 ballot and passed into law, it would allow adults over 21 to cultivate seven mature and seven immature plants at home, expand the type of people who would be allowed to certify patients, remove fees for cardholder applications, and allow cards to last for three years instead of just one before needing to reapply.

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