Arkansas — Spring River Dispensary in Hardy has been open only since Jan. 8, but already has sold 38.46 pounds of medical marijuana, with a great deal of business in the past of couple of weeks, manager Sonja Kaselaan said.
The dispensary formerly known as Arkansas Green Cross Cannabis is the newest of 32 state dispensaries, and Kaselaan said customers are likely responding well to the fact that all its merchandise is prepackaged.
“It’s really just by word of mouth and trying to have that reputation that puts us above the norm,” she said. “We’re hoping that patients see that.”
Arkansans voted in 2016 to legalize medical marijuana through an amendment to the state constitution. The state issued its first growing permits in July 2018 after several legal delays, and the first dispensary opened in May 2019. Almost two years later, Arkansans have spent $242 million on 36,656 pounds of medical cannabis, said Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration.
The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission has issued licenses for 38 dispensaries. The amendment allowed for 40, but the commission decided in December not to issue the remaining two licenses. Hardin said the six pending dispensaries should open in the next two to three months.
Amendment 98 allowed eight marijuana cultivation facilities to supply dispensaries with most of their product. Five are currently operational, and the other three, which received their licenses last summer, should open this year, Hardin said.
The commission established eight geographic zones to ensure that medical-marijuana businesses are spread across the state, with up to five in each area. Zones 6 and 8, which encompass west-central and southwestern Arkansas, will each have four dispensaries, while the remaining six zones will have five each.
Two of the six dispensaries that have not yet opened will be in Pine Bluff, and the others will be in Little Rock, Fayetteville, Osceola and Lamar. MissCo Cannabis Dispensary, the one licensed in Osceola, requested to transfer to Jonesboro, but the commission denied the request at a meeting in November. MissCo appealed the decision, and the commission most likely will hear the appeal in March, Hardin said.
One of the two pending dispensaries in Pine Bluff, Nature’s Herbs and Wellness, will approach the commission next month with a request to change its name to The Treatment Cannabis Dispensary, said Quentin May, an attorney for the dispensary.
The dispensary received its license in June and is scheduled to open the first week of April after weather and building delays made it unlikely to open in March, May said.
“We’re not one of the ones that’s been going at this for 2½ years and is still making excuses for why we’re not open,” he said. “We got our license and got right to work.”
3J Investments Inc. received the 38th and final dispensary license from the commission in December. Michael Goswami, the attorney representing the company, did not disclose the name of the dispensary, but Hardin said it will be in Lamar as the fifth dispensary in Zone 4.
Green Remedies Group, a Little Rock holding company that owns medical-marijuana businesses, filed a complaint against the commission Jan. 27 in Pulaski County Circuit Court, challenging the commission’s deadline of Jan. 9 to issue dispensary licenses and claiming the deadline should have been Feb. 13. The plaintiff’s attorney, Christoph Keller, declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The five operational cultivation facilities are in White Hall, Cotton Plant, Berryville and two in Newport. One of the Newport facilities, Natural State Wellness Enterprises Cultivation, changed its name to Good Day Farm and is moving to Pine Bluff with the commission’s approval awarded in November. The remaining three cultivators will be in Fort Smith, Grady and Hot Springs, Hardin said.
The Medical Marijuana Commission awards licenses for dispensaries and cultivators, while the Alcoholic Beverage Control agency oversees regulation of the businesses.
Eight of the 32 operational dispensaries have received licenses from the agency to grow their own marijuana plants, including most recently The Releaf Center in Bentonville, Hardin said. The amendment limits the dispensaries to 200 plants, with only 50 mature ones at a time, so their harvests are supplementary and not meant to sustain the dispensary’s entire supply. Dispensaries often use their growing capacity for special strains of cannabis.
May said Nature’s Herbs and Wellness will seek a growing license a few months after it opens.
“The plan is to have seeds in the dirt within six months,” May said.
Medical-marijuana sales in Arkansas “really were strong” in the last quarter of 2020, Hardin said. Dec. 31 saw the highest sales to date, with Arkansans spending about $1.2 million at dispensaries that day, up from the daily sales average of about $665,000, Hardin said.
The previous single-day sales record was Nov. 20, about $850,000 compared with the average of about $600,000 at the time.
The Releaf Center has sold the most cannabis, with more than 3,993 pounds since it opened in August 2019. It outpaced Green Springs Medical in Hot Springs, which was the second dispensary to open in March 2019 and has sold almost 3,623 pounds, according to finance department data.
As of Thursday, there are 66,638 active marijuana patient cards registered with the Health Department. The cards are available to patients who have at least one of 18 qualifying conditions or to their caregivers. Purchases are limited to 2.5 ounces every 14 days.
Hardin said in November that sales have been trending upward since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S., prompting health officials to recommend keeping a two-week supply of medication at home. Dispensaries saw an increase in the number of patients making the maximum 2.5-ounce purchase in the early weeks of the pandemic, Hardin said, even though the price of cannabis was roughly $400 per ounce at the time.
“Our hope is that as the dispensaries continue to open, the price continues to become more competitive,” he said.
High Bank Cannabis Co. in Pine Bluff, one of the eight dispensaries that grows some of its own supply, has been open just over four months and already is in the top half of pounds sold per month among all 32 dispensaries, manager Micah Davidson said. The dispensary sold between 70 and 80 pounds in January.
Most customers are local, but “we’ve had patients drive from 2½ hours away because they heard that we’re one of the better ones,” Davidson said.
The severe weather Arkansas experienced last week did not have a significant impact on growth or sales at High Bank or Spring River, Davidson and Kaselaan both said.
“[Sales were]) higher than expected considering the snow and how crazy it has been for Arkansas itself,” Kaselaan said. “We actually saw quite a few new patients.”