Two people wait with a cart containing their documents to submit an application to be part of Arkansas' medical marijuana system at the state Department of Finance and Administration Building on Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark. The pair declined to give their names. The state's Medical Marijuana Commission will consider applications anonymously to select growers and distributors. (Kelly P. Kissel, Associated Press)

Hundreds wait in three hour line to apply to be an Arkansas medical marijuana biz

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Would-be growers and distributors of Arkansas’ initial medical marijuana crop flooded a state office building Monday, turning in thousands of pages of paperwork and handing over thousands of dollars in application fees.

Applicants faced a three-hour wait ahead of Monday afternoon’s deadline, as their number greatly exceeded the clerks available to review paperwork to ensure it was complete. Those hoping to grow medical marijuana had to pay a $15,000 application fee, while potential distributors paid $7,500. Unsuccessful applicants will have half their money refunded.

Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin said about 300 firms or individuals had submitted applications by the close of business Monday. Clerks were staying late to handle applications from those in the office by the deadline. About 100 people or firms sought to grow marijuana, with the others hoping to distribute it.

Arkansas voters last year approved marijuana use by people with certain medical conditions. The new state Medical Marijuana Commission will review applications after the names of companies and individuals have been redacted and then select up to five growers and 32 distributors. The Arkansas Health Department has approved 1,200 people for a medical marijuana registry, making them eligible to obtain the drug.

Applications from the potential growers and distributors were about 1,000 pages long, on average. Several who dropped off applications elected not to identify themselves publicly, while others spoke openly about why they considered their applications worthy.

“If you can beat us at our game, I give you all the credit in the world,” said Chris Stone, who operates two dispensaries in Illinois. He has teamed with a pair of Arkansas pharmacists and wants to grow marijuana in the rich, agricultural lands near Brinkley and distribute marijuana at a dispensary on the east side of Jonesboro.

He said his firm failed in a previous attempt to win a grower’s permit in Illinois, but took the feedback from that loss to fashion a pair of 1,800-page applications in Arkansas.

“Those with successes in other states probably have a leg up on those who are putting together an application for a first time,” he said.

Approval for medical marijuana passed with 53 percent of the vote last November, but the ballot issue lost in nearly half of the state’s 75 counties.

Jerry Cox, the president of the Arkansas Family Council, which opposed the effort, said his group would help leaders in cities and counties that don’t want marijuana operations nearby by suggesting language for local petitions. A provision in the medical marijuana law gives communities a local-option on allowing them — similar to allowing liquor sales in some Arkansas counties (called “wet”) and not in others (called “dry”).

“There have been some communities that have expressed angst about there being a marijuana facility in their community. It’s only fair to give them a chance to opt out,” he said. “We have wet and dry counties. Why shouldn’t it be the same for marijuana?”

Hardin said there is no timetable for when applications must be approved or medical marijuana distributed.

Follow Kelly P. Kissel on Twitter: @kisselAP