Ark. Medical Marijuana Commission sets number of state dispensaries at 32

There will be 32 medical marijuana dispensary licenses up for grabs when the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission eventually starts accepting applications for those licenses, the commission decided on Tuesday.

Dispensary licensing rules weren’t even on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, but legal counsel for both the Department of Finance and Administration and the Alcohol Beverage Control Board urged the commission to trudge-on and speed up the process in order to make a March 9th deadline to have the rules regarding medical marijuana cultivation and dispensary licensing set in stone.

House Bill 1026, currently sitting in the House Rules Committee, would extend the deadline for setting medical marijuana regulations by 60 days. Both DFA and ABC legal counsel isn’t necessarily convinced the measure will pass, suggesting commissioners be ready by the initial deadline.

“What the legislature does or doesn’t do, we’re going to have to react to every time they make a rule change, which is why this is still a fluid process,” said Travis Story, Arkansas Medical Marijuana commissioner from Fayetteville.

Initially on Tuesday, commissioners had decided to approve just 28 licenses for dispensaries across Arkansas, but eventually the group opted to have 32 licenses in the interest of increasing access to medical marijuana patients.

The commission decided to spread the number of dispensary licenses equally amongst the state’s four congressional districts – basing the dispersal of licenses on population. Commissioner Story said he had an idea to create eight regions to spread 32 licenses across, which he believes will create less travel time for patients in more rural regions of the state. Commissioners plan to revisit the dispersal of licenses at a later meeting.

Commissioners also set application and licensing fees for dispensaries, and differentiated between a simple retail dispensary and dispensaries that will opt to grow some of their own marijuana. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, that legalized medical cannabis in Arkansas last year, has a provision that allows dispensaries to possess up to 50 mature marijuana plants at a time.

It was unanimously agreed upon that dispensaries that will also cultivate would have to be under similar higher scrutiny like the state’s five licensed cultivators, and likewise set higher licensing fees for dispensaries with grow operations.

All people looking to apply for a dispensary license would have to pay a $7,500 application fee, of which half would be refunded if an application is denied. Simple retail dispensaries would shell out a $2,500 first-year licensing fee and would be expected to pay $10,000 every year after that for an annual license renewal fee.

Cultivation dispensary licensing fees were set at $25,000 for the first year; the commission setting an annual renewal fee for the cultivating dispensary at $32,500 every year after the first.

Several people interested in setting up dispensaries were upset with the commission’s decision to set licensing fees as high as they did.

“It makes the little businessman have a hard time trying to get into being an entrepreneur in Arkansas,” said Paula White, a Russellville-area woman who’s expressed interest in the medical marijuana business.

Commissioners said it was better to initially set fees high, likely to have an easier time lowering the amount than having to raise it in the future to keep medical marijuana afloat in Arkansas.