The path to legal marijuana in Arkansas has been rocky at best. Though voters in 2016 approved a medical cannabis measure granting access to patients with certain conditions, residents have seen a plethora of stumbling blocks from anti-pot Republicans and legal complainants. On Tuesday, one more hold-up was announced: the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is delaying its designation of 20 to 32 more dispensary licenses until next year.
The meeting was rescheduled from Dec. 19 to Jan. 9, and the reasons are nominally unremarkable. “This will provide newly appointed Commissioners adequate time to receive briefings on all matters related to the MMC,” said Scott Hardin, communications director for the commission. Hardin also cited calendar issues with the medical director of Public Consulting Group– the agency picked to help the state with evaluating dispensary applications last August– as a reason for the Jan. 9 re-scheduling.
Up until now, only five companies have been approved to sell medical marijuana in the state (which has a population of three million), and none are expected to be retailing product before April 2019 at the earliest. Eventually, the state will approve up to 32 dispensaries to be evenly distributed geographically.
The road to licensing hasn’t been easy. After the Medical Marijuana Commission authorized the initial five cannabis firms last February, an unsuccessful applicant sued and claimed the process was unfair and illegal. The Arkansas Supreme Court eventually threw out the lawsuit, but not until June.
Initially, conservative politicians like state senator Jason Rapert dedicated efforts to blocking the implementation of the voter-approved medical cannabis program. Rapert went so far as to introduce a bill that would have crippled the program until cannabis was legalized on a federal level.
Another difficulty faced by the nascent industry came when the state released its zoning requirements for cannabis businesses, which banned any dispensary from opening within 1,500 feet of churches, schools, or daycares—a distance that doubles in regards to cultivation facilities. The proximity ban was particularly difficult for business owners to work with, considering the state is home to 6,697 qualifying religious facilities– and those are only the ones accounted for.
As of Nov. 6, 400 Arkansans suffering from 18 approved medical conditions are now approved by the state to be cannabis patients. Their $50 ID cards will be available one month before legal retail sales begin, and must be renewed on a yearly basis.
Cannabis professionals and patients continue to push for legal medicinal access in Arkansas. But until next month, the state’s second round of prospective dispensary and grow-op entrepreneurs will have no choice but to wait and see if their applications are successful.