On Monday, Arkansas’ Medical Marijuana Commission welcomed its newest member, pediatric nurse Justin Smith. Smith has worked in pediatric care for 11 years, and currently works at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Smith’s appointment to the Commission could help shape Arkansas’ still-emerging medical cannabis program in important ways. In his time as a nurse, the 38-year-old Smith gained firsthand experience with the benefits of medical cannabis treatments for children.
New Board Member Could Shape Arkansas Medical Cannabis Policy to Benefit Children
Arkansas’ five-member Medical Marijuana Commission found itself a member shy last month when James Miller resigned. Justin Smith, a pediatric nurse, will take Miller’s place. But he brings with him a set of experiences that his predecessor didn’t have. In his 11 years as a nurse, Smith has worked with patients who took medical cannabis treatments. And he’s seen the effectiveness of those treatments, firsthand.
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” Smith told the AP. “When you see that, it kind of changes your mind and perspective on things.” Smith said that his long-time experience as a pediatric nurse makes it impossible for him to deny the effectiveness of medical cannabis. “Especially in my case, when you see it work on children, you can’t really deny it has some benefits with proper application,” Smith said.
Indeed, a pair of recent studies and the FDA’s recent approval of the cannabis-based epilepsy drug Epidiolex have put the children of medical cannabis in the spotlight. So has the hit documentary Weed the People, which follows terminally ill children and their families who rely on medical cannabis treatments. This kind of exposure to the reality of medical cannabis has the power to overcome skepticism and lead to a better understand of the drug and its uses. Having a voice representing that perspective on the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission could be a game-changer for patients in the state.
Arkansas Medical Marijuana Program Still Has No Dispensaries
The appointment of a pediatric nurse to the empty seat on Arkansas’ medical marijuana board is important. But the more pressing question is when that board will take action to license and finally launch Arkansas’ medical cannabis program. Voters approved a measure legalizing medical marijuana back in 2016. 26 months later, the state has yet to license a single dispensary. The Commission has approved more than 6,000 patients, but has yet to send them the official license they’ll need to access a dispensary in Arkansas or out-of-state in Oklahoma.
On Wednesday, however, the commission will meet to decide who to award the state’s first 32 medical cannabis dispensary operating licenses. Arkansas has received over 200 applications for dispensary licenses. In July, the Commission voted to hire Boston-based consulting firm Public Consulting Group to score the applications ahead of their review. In response to demands from patients and the industry, Arkansas officials say they’ll issue official patient licenses by early February. Dispensary sales are expected to come online in late March or early April.