LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas panel on Wednesday named 32 companies it intends to license to sell medical marijuana, two years after voters approved its legalization and following a series of delays that have frustrated patients and advocates.
The state Medical Marijuana Commission approved the scores from an outside consultant it had hired to evaluate about 200 applications for dispensaries. The companies must pay a $15,000 licensing fee and post a $100,000 performance bond before the licenses to sell the drug are formally issued. The commission last year awarded five cultivation licenses to grow medical marijuana.
Arkansas voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, but the program's rollout has faced legal and bureaucratic delays. Adding to the frustration is neighboring Oklahoma , where medical marijuana is already available to patients months after voters approved its legalization.
"On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of frustration, we're all at a 99," said Melissa Fults, executive director of the Drug Policy Education Group, which advocates for medical marijuana patients.
Arkansas has approved more than 6,700 cards for patients to use medical marijuana, and the state Department of Health has said it likely won't distribute the cards until February. The patients include LaRee Treece, who has fibromyalgia and says she needs medical marijuana for the pain.
"I think the delay is horrendous. I've had several friends die waiting," she said.
Even with Wednesday's vote, patients are still likely months away from being able to buy marijuana. Two of the cultivation facilities don't expect to have the drug available until April , while the others said it likely won't be until later in the summer.
The attorney who wrote Arkansas' medical marijuana amendment said that could create even more of a headache, with a limited supply for patients, and suggested the commission set a launch date statewide.
"They ought to talk with the cultivators and the dispensaries to figure out when there's going to be a sufficient supply of the product available," David Couch said.