Reluctant Arkansas State Officials Can No Longer Ignore Neighboring Cannabis Success Stories

Peer pressure at the highest level

In November of 2016, voters in Arkansas tilted the polls in favor of medical marijuana to the tune of a 53-47 vote to establish the state’s first medical marijuana program.

The proposed set of laws was and is a very watered down version of cannabis reform. It does not allow the state’s MMJ patients to grow their own cannabis at home, dispensaries cannot sell edibles or infused drinks containing more than 10mg of THC, and the state is strict about sticking to its predefined list of 20 qualifying medical conditions.

Nevertheless, weed-fearing state legislators followed that 2016 vote with the immediate passage of HB 1026, an “emergency” political injunction to ignore the will of the voters and stall the implementation of the state’s medical marijuana program by delaying the application period for issuance of cultivation and retail licenses.  

Now, here we are more than two years after voters demanded safe access to cannabis in Arkansas and the state still does not have one operational dispensary and their one sanctioned cultivator has yet to pull a crop.

Compounding that is the fact that while the Arkansas Department of Health claims to have over 6,700 men and women approved as prospective medical marijuana patients, they have yet to issue any sort of proof or documentation to those people.

Originally, regulators announced that they would not issue an official form of patient identification until 30 days prior to product actually becoming available.

This illogical decision was met with a fresh wave of homegrown disapproval once neighboring Oklahoma, with its shiny new MMJ program, announced that it would accept out of state medical marijuana ID cards for retail sales, but that the paper documents that Arkansas was going to make available ASAP would not be sufficient.

In response, Arkansas state officials have vowed to make MMJ ID cards available to its growing list of registered patients within the next 2-3 weeks.

Their “reward” will be the ability to pay $100 for a 30-day temporary license to purchase medical marijuana in Oklahoma.

This is not safe access

A recent spate of headlines from the Wonder State has many people wondering why now, all of a sudden, we are getting news of 32 new dispensary approvals, excited growers ready for the state’s first legal cannabis harvest in nearly a century, and even the issuance of tangible medical marijuana ID cards after so much heel-dragging in Arkansas.

Arkansas shares roughly 200 miles of border with Oklahoma and for many residents, a trip across state lines and back can be done in a couple of hours.

They watched as their neighbors in Oklahoma voted in their own medical marijuana laws in June of 2018 and in a short six months have already approved over 13,000 new MMJ patients, over 1,000 cultivators, and around 750 retail dispensary outlets.

Similarly, Arkansas also shares roughly 300 miles of its northern border with the state of Missouri, who also passed their own medical marijuana laws in 2018 as a result of the November election.

Since Missouri health officials began accepting applications for entry into their sprouting MMJ program at the start of this month, they have raked in an eye-catching $2,000,000 in fees from folks looking to legally grow or sell weed in the state.

Amendment 2 in Missouri is flawed, for sure, but one thing it seems to have gotten right is that it places restrictions on license stacking so one company cannot operate more than three cultivation facilities, five dispensaries or three cannabis-infused manufacturing facilities. It also allows for limited home cultivation.

Just as we are seeing now with slow-to-act states like Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York as they watch neighbors like Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Massachusetts raking in cannabis cash, that lure of legal tax and fee revenue is becoming too hard to ignore and is forcing these otherwise disinclined states to finally take action.

We’d all like to believe that it is the very real medicinal benefits that cannabis can deliver that’s causing this ideological shift at the top levels of our government, but let’s face it, money talks.

As depressing as that may sound, it is still driving real reform across the country and that is a net positive. It should also remind the cannabis movement that we are in a highly influential position.

This reality should also never discount the hard work being done from the grassroots on up by activists and advocates for the cannabis plant in traditional prohibitionist strongholds like Arkansas. We need to continue to hold our lawmakers and regulatory bodies to the highest standards and demand that all medical marijuana laws include fundamental rights. Then, and only then, should they be able to pinch the sack for their share.