LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Voters have made Arkansas the first Bible Belt state to legalize medical marijuana, but it will be several months or longer before patients suffering from a host of ailments will be able to buy the drug.
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Despite vigorously opposing the Arkansas medial marijuana measure, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he won’t stand in the way of the program and asked lawmakers to set aside $3 million for its launch. He also asked state agencies to begin working on the rules needed to set up the program, though other opponents have said they’ll push for legislation next year that they hope will limit the program.
There’s plenty of work remaining for the state before the drug can be bought or sold legally. Here’s where things stand:
WHEN WILL ARKANSAS MEDICAL MARIJUANA BE AVAILABLE?
Don’t expect to be able to buy medical marijuana immediately. The state agencies that will enforce the amendment — the Department of Health, Arkansas Beverage Control Division and the newly formed Medical Marijuana Commission — have about four months to adopt the rules for how the program will work.
WHERE WILL IT BE SOLD?
Arkansas medical marijuana can only be sold by state-licensed dispensaries. Hutchinson and the leaders of the state House and state Senate have about a month to make appointments to the Medical Marijuana Commission, a five-member panel that will issue dispensary licenses. The commission faces a June 2017 deadline to begin accepting applications for dispensary licenses. The amendment allows between 20 and 40 dispensaries, but no more than four dispensaries can be located in one county. It allows between four and eight licensed cultivation facilities, which will grow and supply marijuana for dispensaries. The amendment allows cities and counties to hold special elections initiated by voters to ban dispensaries and cultivation facilities.
WHO CAN SELL IT?
Right now, no one can until the state licenses dispensaries. The state isn’t accepting license applications yet. The commission first has to adopt rules for how it will consider applications for licenses and renewals, and it also has to set fees for dispensary applications. The maximum fee allowed under the amendment for an application is $7,500. Dispensary owners and employees must be at least 21 years old and cannot have been convicted of a violent felony under the amendment, which details other restrictions.
WHO CAN BUY IT?
When the program is set up, patients who have written certification from a doctor that they have a qualifying medical condition can apply for a state-issued registry card that will allow them to buy marijuana from dispensaries. The state Department of Health is working on the rules for the registry and is not yet accepting applications. The department will also have to set application and renewal fees for qualified patients. The proposal lists 12 conditions that would qualify, including cancer, Crohn’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder, along with chronic or debilitating diseases that produce symptoms such as seizures or severe nausea. It would also allow the Department of Health to add other qualifying medical conditions. Qualifying patients must be at least 18 years old, although patients under 18 are eligible if they have a qualifying condition and a parent or guardian’s written consent. The parent or guardian would also have to agree in writing to be a designated caregiver and control the acquisition, dosage and frequency of medical marijuana for the child.
CAN THE AMENDMENT BE REPEALED?
Since it’s written into Arkansas’ constitution, the amendment can’t be repealed without another vote of the people. The Legislature can change some parts of the measure with a two-thirds vote, except for the provisions legalizing the drug for medical use and establishing the number of dispensaries allowed. Opponents of the measure have said they’re now focusing on seeking other limits to the medical marijuana program, and the proposals they’re exploring include restrictions on advertising and the types of marijuana products the dispensaries can sell.
Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter @ademillo