Fort Smith has been tentatively slated to receive its first medical marijuana dispensary in less than two months.
Fort Cannabis is set to open in early December at 3904 Ayers Road. It will be a cultivating dispensary, according to Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
The dispensary will be the second of two in Arkansas Medical Marijuana Dispensary Zone 4, which includes eight counties, that is slated to open before 2020. It is one of 12 in the state listed to open in that time, according to state records.
Arkansans in 2016 voted to allow medical marijuana in their state, but card holders were unable to obtain the drug until dispensaries first opened within the state in May. Nearly 26,200 Arkansas medical marijuana ID cards had been approved as of Friday, according to Arkansas Department of Health records.
Fort Smith, which sits along the eastern border of Oklahoma, had three medical marijuana dispensary proposals including Fort Cannabis assessed by the Department of Finance and Administration in January 2019. City residents have waited for a dispensary as dispensaries in eastern Oklahoma towns including Roland have opened their doors following the Sooner state’s medical marijuana legalization in June 2018. Arkansans who had been given approval letters were not allowed to obtain a temporary Oklahoma medical marijuana license.
“Two legislative sessions have passed since the medical marijuana amendment. In that time, the state Legislature has made it workable,” said District 77 state Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith. “The amendment originally had doctors prescribing it.”
Ten medical marijuana dispensaries have opened in Arkansas since April. They have yielded more than 2,159 pounds of medical marijuana and have made more than $15.3 million in sales, according to state records.
River Valley Relief Cultivation was previously a finalist to be approved by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission as a cultivator in the state. Five companies were approved, and River Valley Relief tied for sixth.
“Fort Smith will finally have its first dispensary in operation later this year. There is certainly a large responsibility for those in the medical cannabis industry to take the role they have been entrusted by the voters of Arkansas seriously and they need to be diligent in deterring any potential abuses. There is also a responsibility for those operating in this industry to ensure access to the patients who have a legitimate qualifying condition and that they work diligently to understand their patients’ needs and help them educate them to understand their options,” District 76 state Rep. Cindy Crawford, R-Fort Smith, said in a written statement Saturday. Once open, Fort Cannabis will operate inside Crawford’s legislative district.
Some medical professionals have cited medical marijuana as treatment for various conditions including nausea, seizures, anxiety and chronic pain. Two studies from the American Medical Association suggest states with medical marijuana laws have lower opioid usage. However, many physicians remain cautious about discussing medical marijuana with their patients.
Sebastian County doctors in 2018 prescribed approximately 102.1 opioid painkiller prescriptions per 100 people, according to prescription drug monitoring program records. Three out of every four people who have used heroin in 2019 began misusing prescription opioids first, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Though Fort Cannabis will not be in his district, Boyd, a pharmacist, said in 2018 that medical marijuana could reduce the number of people who become addicted to opioids in the first place.
Boyd on Saturday did not express his medical or pharmaceutical views on marijuana but said the dispensary will fulfill what Arkansans said they wanted in 2016.
“The voters, in my district in particular, overwhelmingly supported the medical marijuana amendment when it was on the ballot,” Boyd said. “That tells me it’s important to the people of Fort Smith that it’s available to a portion of the population.”
Crawford, who said residents in her district voted for medical marijuana “by a fairly large margin,” anticipates Arkansas will benefit from increased tax revenues from the dispensary sales.
“We are counting on every business in this industry to conduct their operations with professionalism and integrity and to create an industry the voters can be proud of,” Crawford said.