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Call what's happening now a reboot for medical marijuana in Arkansas.

Theoretically, at least, the drug is going to be available. When is less certain.

How medical marijuana cards can be obtained

Applicant requirements and other rules regarding state-issued medical marijuana registration cards:

• An Arkansas driver’s license or other state-issued identification card.

• A signed statement by the person that he or she will not divert marijuana to any person not allowed to possess it.

• A $50 registration fee.

• A written certification from a doctor that the patient, based on medical history and current health, has a qualifying condition.

• A completed criminal history check form.

• Patients under 18 will be allowed a card only with written consent of a parent or guardian and written assurance from a physician that the risks and benefits have been explained to the patient and the parent or the guardian.

• A person caring for a disabled person with a qualifying condition also will be allowed to obtain a card allowing the caregiver to obtain marijuana on behalf of a patient.

• Visitors from other states that allow medical marijuana can use their cards from those states in Arkansas, as long as they certify in writing that they have a condition that would qualify them for a card in Arkansas.

• Registration cards will expire after one year or a shorter period if the doctor recommends an earlier expiration date.

• State information on who holds marijuana user registration cards is considered confidential and exempt from public release, but may be shared with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division and the Medical Marijuana Commission as necessary. The Department of Health shall verify to law enforcement personnel whether a registry identification card is valid.

Source: Arkansas Department of Health

Yes, state voters did approve cultivation, sale and use of the drug for medicinal purposes a ways back.

That was in 2016, time enough for the first legal crops to have been grown and again, at least theoretically, providing relief to Arkansas patients.

But interruptions delayed the implementation of the constitutional amendment voters approved with a solid 53 percent of the vote.

Most notable among the interruptions was litigation that followed approval of the first licenses to cultivate "weed" legally in this state.

Importantly, only marijuana grown by authorized cultivators in Arkansas may lawfully be sold in Arkansas, so getting the few allowable cultivation facilities up and going is a critical cog in implementation.

The amendment allows up to eight cultivation facilities statewide. The commission has plans to authorize only five from among 95 applicants. These applicants are the folks who are expected to be the big winners in a brand new branch of the state's agricultural industry.

The five licensees must pay a $100,000 licensing fee and post a $500,000 performance bond just to start their respective businesses.

The reboot happened last week when the five licensees originally selected by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission actually received their licenses.

The licensees had all ponied up the required fees and bonds back in March and now are presumably moving full steam ahead.

They were selected after jumping through the required state hoops, but one of the losing applicants sued, challenging the process by which the cultivation facility licensees were chosen.

The process stopped dead in its tracks as the litigation proceeded.

Late last month, the Arkansas Supreme Court determined the lower court that stopped the licensing process did not have jurisdiction to do so.

More litigation is promised. For now, the five licensees have the go-ahead.

Significantly, the commission has also begun the process for selecting the 32 companies that will be initially allowed to sell marijuana legally in Arkansas.

At least they're trying to start the process.

First they'll need legislative approval of a rule change to let the commission outsource scoring for these dispensary applications.

Commissioners did the scoring themselves for the cultivation facilities but they want to involve an independent consultant in this next phase.

As with the cultivation applications, they've gotten many more applicants than will eventually receive licenses.

Current language in the constitutional amendment will eventually allow as many as 40 dispensaries, but they're looking to award only 32 licenses now from among 203 dispensary applicants.

The same sort of controversy surrounding the scoring process for cultivators could similarly interrupt the selection of dispensaries. Litigation on that front is highly probable.

All of these licenses are highly prized by the people seeking them, not just for the medical marijuana business they promise now but also for a leg up on recreational marijuana business should that, ultimately, be legalized by Arkansas voters.

Not everyone supports the idea, but the trend toward legalization of cannabis, like it or not, is clear.

Meanwhile, the waiting list of Arkansas patients, people with one of 18 qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use, continues to grow.

The state Department of Health has already approved more than 5,500 patients for medical marijuana registry ID cards. That number will likely explode when legal cannabis is harvested and dispensaries are open for business.

Commentary on 07/18/2018

Print Headline: The smoke clears

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