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story.lead_photo.caption This Sept. 15, 2015 file photo shows marijuana plants a few weeks away from harvest in a medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill.

State regulators have cleared the first medical-marijuana growing facility in Arkansas to begin cultivating.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control agency inspected Bold Team's Cotton Plant greenhouse last week, making it the first cannabis cultivator approved to begin growing the plant in Arkansas.

"The cultivation process is now underway and we expect to have medicine available to dispensaries in April 2019," the company said in a Friday statement. "We are honored to begin meeting the medical needs of so many Arkansans at this historic moment in our great state."

The four other licensed growers are in varying stages of construction. One group, Delta Medical Cannabis Co., is in the first stages of construction as the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission on Wednesday approved its request to change its facility location.

The other three groups expect to make the first medical cannabis available to dispensaries from the spring to the summer of this year.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of medical marijuana in Arkansas]

The commission at its Wednesday meeting selected the first 32 dispensaries. Those companies will be licensed to sell the drug after posting a $100,000 performance bond and $15,000 licensing fee. They'll also need to pass inspection once their retail spaces are ready for business.

The first dispensary, according to state and industry officials, is expected to open in April.

Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Alcoholic Beverage Control agency, said the Bold Team is approved to either grow from seed or transport in partially mature plants.

Hardin added that Natural State Medicinals Cultivation of Jefferson County and Osage Creek Cultivation of Berryville are expected to complete construction and request inspections in a matter of weeks.

Natural State Wellness Enterprise is the fifth cultivation licensee. Company officials told the commission last month that the facility was in the early stages of construction.

Arkansas approved Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution in 2016, making it one of 33 states to legalize the drug, but court challenges and bureaucratic hurdles have bogged down the program's implementation.

Furthermore, a spate of rain has slowed the construction for several cultivators, company officials told the commission during a December meeting.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Department of Health announced last week that it would begin issuing patients medical-marijuana ID cards next month. The cards allow patients to legally purchase, possess and use the drug.

As of Friday, 6,764 patients had been approved to have one of 18 qualifying conditions that permits them to use medical cannabis.

About a third of patients to receive ID cards suffer from intractable pain, according to the Health Department. About 16 percent have severe arthritis, and just over 10 percent have post-traumatic stress disorder.

The least prevalent conditions are amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and Tourette's syndrome, according to Health Department data.

About 51.6 percent of registered patients are male, according to the department. The largest percentage of patients (53.7 percent) are between ages 45-64, and a large majority (87.8 percent) are white.

A Section on 01/12/2019

Print Headline: Regulators clear firm to grow medical marijuana; facility first in state OK’d to cultivate

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