Medical marijuana program rollout underway


Last update: June 26, 2017


Before concluding for the year, the legislature implemented several changes to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, both good and bad. Now the licensing process has begun. The Medical Marijuana Commission will issue up to 32 dispensary licenses and five cultivation center licenses, and another three cultivation licenses may be added in the future. Applications can be filed from June 30 until September 18, 2017. The department has not announced when it will make its decision.

Beginning on June 30, 2017, patients can begin applying for ID cards through the Department of Health. Cards will cost $50 and will be issued 30 days before dispensaries start selling cannabis. Patients are expected to have access to their medicine before the end of the year. For more information, please check the department’s website here.

The road to establishing Arkansas’s medical cannabis program was a confusing one to say the least. Last year’s election season saw two competing initiatives and multiple lawsuits, and the 2017 legislative session saw dozens of bills filed that had the potential to impact the program in various ways. Thankfully, the initiative survived the legislative session largely intact and without damage to its core protections. Many thanks to everyone who worked to make Arkansas the first state in the Deep South with a compassionate medical cannabis law!

Current law is one of the harshest nationwide


Arkansas has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the nation, but despite increasing interest around the country for improvements to marijuana laws, the Arkansas Legislature has shown little interest in changing its cannabis laws. Possessing less than four ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor carrying up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Possessing an ounce of marijuana or more by those who have twice been convicted of possession is a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $6,000.

Let your lawmakers know it’s long past time for a more proportionate and fiscally sound approach to marijuana. Twenty-two states — including Mississippi, North Carolina, and Missouri — have decriminalized or legalized marijuana. Ask your legislators to impose a civil fine on marijuana possession or to regulate marijuana like alcohol.

In 2012, there were at least 5,718 marijuana arrests in Arkansas. Of those arrests, over 90% were for marijuana possession. During the same year, 91% of all reported burglaries, including home invasions, and over 90% of all motor vehicle thefts went unsolved. Law enforcement should stop wasting time on marijuana-related offenses and use its resources to stop real crime.

In addition to wasting law enforcement time on victimless marijuana offenses, marijuana enforcement has been extremely unequal in Arkansas. African Americans in Arkansas are over three times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana compared with whites, although both black and white populations consume marijuana at similar rates. To learn more about how the war on marijuana can be used to discriminate against African Americans in the U.S. and in Arkansas, check out the ACLU’s recent report.

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