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Applicants have shown up by the hundreds to get in on Arkansas' newest business opportunity.

It will be a while yet before any of them get the nod, but an awful lot of people want to be the ones to grow and sell medical marijuana in this state.

They packed into state Department of Finance and Administration offices on Monday, the deadline for submitting applications, and left thousands of pages of documents and some hefty application fees.

Applicants who seek one of just five available licenses to grow marijuana put up $15,000 for the privilege while those wanting to dispense the drug to qualified patients paid $7,500. Those whose applications get turned down will only get half those fees back. Those who win the medical marijuana lottery will owe more, including annual licensing fees.

So how many folks want in on this deal? Plenty. They see money to be made and people lining up to spend it.

Officials expected to have an official count this week, but there are at least 100 applicants for cultivation facility licenses and more than 200 seeking dispensary licenses.

Filing actually opened June 30 and a few dozen did apply before Monday's deadline. But most put filing off until the deadline. Consequently, they had to wait hours on Monday for state staff to work through them all.

The staff was checking to be sure the paperwork was complete. Actual review of the applications comes later.

That duty falls to the still-new Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, created when Arkansas voters approved the constitutional amendment that allows medical marijuana.

The amendment was Issue 6 on the 2016 general election ballot, one of two proposed medical marijuana proposals originally offered to voters. The other failed a court challenge and votes for it didn't count. Issue 6 passed with a strong 53 percent of the overall vote, although it failed in half or more of the state's counties.

Nevertheless, medical marijuana is coming to Arkansas. The drug was previously prohibited in the state, as it still is under federal law. The feds will apparently continue to look away as Arkansas becomes the first Bible Belt state to get into the business.

The five cultivation facilities may be anywhere in the state. The 32 distributions centers will be spread around the state to ensure access for all Arkansans.

These applications, which must come from individuals, not companies or corporations, will have the names redacted when the commission considers them.

Commissioners made that decision some time back. They also decided to score the applications based on criteria agreed upon earlier in a process that has been going on really ever since voters endorsed medical marijuana.

Much of the process was spelled out in the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment itself, although the state Legislature and the agencies tasked with administration have had their input, too. You may recall that the amendment itself allowed almost anything in it to be altered by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

Among adopted rules is that these licenses to grow or sell marijuana will go to applicants with Arkansas ties. Arkansans must hold at least a 60 percent ownership stake.

Naturally, a lot have reached out to people in other states that already have established marijuana-growing operations and dispensaries. But a majority of each of these new Arkansas businesses must be Arkansas owned.

There is already a waiting list of patients. Close to 1,200 people have applied for the state-issued registry cards they'll need to get access to this particular medicine.

The state won't issue the cards until 30 days before medical marijuana is actually available in the state. So expect the number of qualifying patients to swell, too, as availability nears.

Ask the people who voted for the amendment why they did and most will point to those potential patients, the people who might be helped by the medicine.

They're why Arkansas is now a medical marijuana state, even if the focus for now is on who might profit from this new business.

Commentary on 09/20/2017

Print Headline: Growing interest

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