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Arkansas’ 2020 Cannabis Legalization Push Is Over

COVID-19 stopped the petitioning process in its tracks, and the campaign was only able to collect half of the required signatures by this week’s deadline.

Published on Jul 3, 2020 3:20PM EDT Arkansas

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After a long struggle to gather enough signatures by July 3, the push in Arkansas to get adult use cannabis legalization on the ballot is over—for now. COVID-19 all but put an end to the types of gatherings where petitioners typically collect signatures, and a legal conflict over the signature-gathering process only added to the challenges.

“We’re not going to make the ballot. COVID-19 killed it,” said Melissa Fults, executive director of Arkansans for Cannabis Reform. Fults told Cannabis Wire that at their last count, they have between 30,000-40,000 signatures, but would have needed over 89,000 for the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment to qualify for the ballot. “It was just one of those years,” Fults said. “That’s all I can say is, it was just one of those years, unfortunately.”

The campaign announced in a Facebook post last Saturday that legalization would not be on the 2020 ballot and they cited COVID-19, as well as a lack of funding and volunteer participation, as contributing factors. Fults told Cannabis Wire that because many of the campaign volunteers were medical cannabis patients, she discouraged them from being in public, worried that any underlying health conditions would put volunteers at a higher risk.

“I couldn’t have them out there and take the risk of one of them contracting it and getting deathly ill and dying,” she said.

The constitutional amendment would have legalized the use of cannabis for adults 21 or older, including limited home cultivation. It would have authorized the Alcohol Beverage Control Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration to regulate the program and to license at least one commercial retail establishment per county in the state. And it would have directed tax funds to early education and after school programs, and to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Medical cannabis was legalized in 2016 in Arkansas, but the first dispensary didn’t open until 2019. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and state Senator Cecile Bledsoe have lent their support to a campaign opposing adult-use cannabis called “Just Don’t Sign.” They did not respond to Cannabis Wire’s requests for comment.

“It is a very conservative state. Our legislature is very conservative,” said Fults. “However, the people support it. They support it within reason. They want rules and regulations and they don’t want to walk outside and their neighbor has a yard full of plants growing.”

Arkansans for Cannabis Reform is an initiative led by the Drug Policy Education Group, a nonprofit that also campaigned for a second ballot amendment this year that would have expunged some cannabis-related convictions.

Also hampering the campaign’s efforts were ongoing changes to the signature-gathering process in the wake of COVID-19. After a number of campaigns suspended in-person signature collection due to health concerns, one group, Arkansas Voters First, filed a lawsuit on April 22 that would lift certain signature gathering requirements, like requiring a witness, notarization, and in-person signature.

U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes temporarily waived these restrictions through a preliminary injunction, which allowed campaigns, including Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, to collect signatures remotely, including by mail. The state appealed the ruling, and in the meantime, the less restrictive rules for signature collection are on hold, but the lawsuit is ongoing. The changing legal predicament made it more difficult for Fults and her team to collect signatures.

According to the campaign’s Facebook post and Fults, the’ Drug Policy Education Group is shifting its focus to opposing Issue 3 on the November 2020 ballot, which places significant restrictions on the process by which citizen-initiated initiatives, referenda, and constitutional amendments are submitted and approved.

Fults says she and other campaigners plan to join forces with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML, to support a campaign for adult-use next year.

COVID-19 stopped the petitioning process in its tracks, and the campaign was only able to collect half of the required signatures by this week’s deadline.

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Arkansas medical marijuana sales set to reach 30,000 pounds in December

In the 18 months since Arkansas’ first medical marijuana dispensary opened in May 2019, overall sales have surpassed 28,000 pounds. In total, Arkansans have spent $187 million to obtain 28,674 pounds of medical marijuana.

At this rate, officials with the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission anticipate sales will reach 30,000 pounds by late December.

Locally, since Plant Family Therapeutics of Mountain Home opened in February, the company has sold 1,303 pounds of medical marijuana.

In Mountain View, since Fiddler’s Green opened in July 2019, the company has sold 1,581 pounds of medical marijuana.

Arkansas anticipates medical marijuana sales to reach 30K pounds by late December

Since the first medical marijuana dispensary opened in Arkansas in May 2019, overall sales have surpassed 28,000 pounds.

In total, Arkansans have spent $187 million to obtain 28,674 pounds of medical marijuana.

Scott Hardin with the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission anticipates sales will reach 30,000 pounds by late December.

There are currently 31 dispensaries in operation with six remaining that are working toward opening.

The six include a new dispensary in Little Rock, Fayetteville, Osceola and Hardy along with two dispensaries in Pine Bluff.


Arkansas Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Short On Flower Supply

Arkansas medical marijuana dispensaries are experiencing a shortage of the flower form of the product and a spokesman for Alcoholic Beverage Control said the agency is looking into the supply issue.

The number of medical marijuana patients in the state has surged past 80,000. The state has only four cultivators in operation, and dispensaries report having trouble getting some strains entirely. The supply of other products, such as tinctures, vape cartridges and edibles, is sufficient, dispensary owners say.

Arkansas sees medical marijuana shortage, patients in need of medicine

The Arkansas Department of Health’s website reports that there are 83,779 active medical marijuana cards in the state, but dispensaries and patients are seeing an unprecedented amount of shortages.

“We had to raise our prices because we had just too many people coming through the shop,” Owner of Green Springs Medical marijuana dispensary in Hot Springs, Dragan Vicentic, said. He said he’s seen the shortage at his dispensary since June. They have a list of 75 different strands of marijuana and he was out a dozen this week. He said the shortage is growing each week and it’s impacting patient’s health.

“It’s more expensive, they’re having to go back to the streets possibly to get it from the people on the black market which is a terrible idea,” Vicentic said.

Arkansans spent $154 million on medical marijuana

Arkansans spent $154 million on 24,067 pounds of medical marijuana since the first dispensary opened in May 2019. This is according to Scott Hardin, who is a spokesperson with the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission.

In Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley specifically, 8,416 pounds of medical marijuana were sold since August 2019.

There are currently 29 dispensaries in Arkansas, and the state expects to open eight more.

83,779 Arkansans have a patient card for medical marijuana. Starting on September 30th, expired patient cards must be renewed to make new purchases.

A trip to the doctor’s office for card renewal is not required. Patients can do a Telehealth appointment with a doctor to confirm their conditions and to receive a patient card.

Arkansas: Average daily medical marijuana sales climb to $600,000

Medical marijuana sales from Aug. 21 through Wednesday ticked up compared to the last reporting period, according to the sales report the state revenue agency released Friday.

Daily sales during the 20-day period that ended Wednesday were $600,000 on average. The daily sales average during the 16-day reporting period that ended Aug. 20 was $592,000. The Department of Finance and Administration said the 29 dispensaries in operation during the most recent reporting period averaged $20,698 in daily sales.

Arkansas patients attest: Medical marijuana helps

Since Arkansas voters passed the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment in 2016, more than 72,500 Arkansans have obtained Medical Marijuana Prescription Cards in order to obtain products to treat the 18 qualifying conditions.

These Arkansans include a sleepless cancer survivor, a 10-year-old epileptic child with seizures and a combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. Here are the stories of the conditions that led them to pursue medical marijuana as a treatment and their experiences using the drug.

Arkansas: Medical marijuana sales top 20,000 pounds since beginning

The state’s monthly report shows medical marijuana sales remain strong in Arkansas, which has almost 76,000 people with cards allowing them to purchase the product.

Since legal sales began in May 2019, some 20,000 pounds of cannabis have been sold, grossing $131 million. Sales in the last two weeks have averaged $590,000 daily, according to a report from Scott Hardin at the Department of Finance and Administration.

A total of 28 dispensaries are serving patients with nine remaining that are working toward opening. Ten of the 28 in operation have sold more than 1,000 pounds.

Arkansas: Suspension of expiration dates on medical marijuana patient cards ending soon

Earlier this year, the Arkansas Department of Health suspended expiration dates on medical marijuana registry cards due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. This allowed individuals to temporarily use their cards past the expiration date written on their card.

This temporary extension will end on September 30, 2020. Cards with an expiration date on or before September 30, 2020, will expire on September 30, 2020.

Cardholders need to submit a renewal application by September 11, 2020, to allow time for processing. Cards with an expiration date after September 30, 2020, will expire on the date written on the card.

High demand for medical marijuana causes shortage in parts of Arkansas

There are several questions in both Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley regarding medical marijuana dispensaries and the struggle to meet the needs of Arkansans.

Patient Carla Thompson says if medical marijuana doesn’t become more available in Arkansas she may have to go to Oklahoma.

“Like right now I’m almost out so tomorrow I will probably have to go online and search around and try to find somewhere that has something,” Thompson said.

Thompson and many other patients say finding access to the medicine they need is almost impossible. She says her local dispensary, Fort Cannabis Company, struggles to keep its shelves full of any strain.

“Mostly from just anything we ran completely out of flower for two weeks now,” said Fort Cannabis Manager Alisha.


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