According to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), as of November 2020 there are about 60,000 “active medical marijuana ID cards” in Arkansas. However, articles from October 2020 featured in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and Marijuana Business Daily have the number at 85,000 and 83,000 respectively.

Whatever the number and the source, it’s obvious there's a major need for medical marijuana in Arkansas. Currently, there is a growing population of medical cannabis patients putting a demand on its fledgling cannabis market. But is the state of the MMJ program in Arkansas adequately providing access to its cardholders? Like in most states, there have been some hiccups coming online with it.

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How MMJ Started in Arkansas

Legal use of medical cannabis in Arkansas was a voter-led initiative called Issue 6. After voters approved it in 2016, the initiative became Amendment 98 in the state constitution in 2017. Next, lawmakers created several bills to refine what would become Arkansas’ medical cannabis system. It included 24 acts. These range from addressing protection for patients to establishing the Medical Marijuana Commission (MMC) to prohibiting active military from participating as patients or caregivers.

The MMC began accepting applications for commercial cannabis growers and suppliers in 2017. The first Arkansas dispensary opened in May 2019. 

The Basics of Arkansas Medical Cannabis Laws

Like most MMJ programs, there are some good things about Arkansas’ rollout of medical marijuana. But also, there are some issues that are causing debate. Unfortunately, there's often a learning curve when getting a medical cannabis program off the ground. Let’s start with something good.

Patient Rights and Protections

While employers are allowed to establish their own workplace drug policies, medical cannabis patients are protected from employers taking action against them based on their MMJ status. Also, patients are protected as tenants. Landlords can set no-smoking rules, but they cannot prohibit tenants from using other forms of medical marijuana.

Patients can purchase 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis every 14 days. Of course, qualifying patients or their designated caregivers must purchase from a state-approved dispensary. Sadly, home cultivation is currently not allowed. 

Arkansas Medical Cannabis Consumption Laws

Arkansas law is pretty explicit about consuming medical cannabis in public. Per Act 740, patients may not possess, smoke, or use cannabis in the following places:

  • Public transportation
  • Colleges or universities
  • Any childcare, preschool, primary or secondary schools
  • Drug and alcohol treatment facilities
  • Community or rec centers
  • Correctional facilities
  • Public places
  • Anywhere smoking is prohibited
  • In close physical proximity to anyone under 14

Arkansas and Out-of-State Medical Cards

Arkansas does accept out-of-state medical cards. Visitors must complete the out-of-state registration and pay a $50 nonrefundable fee. If approved, visiting patients may purchase from AR dispensaries for 30 days.

Medical Cannabis for Active Military in Arkansas?

State Act 479 prevents members of the Arkansas National Guard or current members of the U.S. military residing in Arkansas from becoming patients or caregivers.

Telehealth for MMJ in Arkansas

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, telehealth is widely used across the health industry. And it is no different in Arkansas’ medical cannabis program. Thankfully, patients seeking medical cannabis approval can get their physician certification from the safety and security of their own home. Do it via phone, tablet, or computer. 

When using telemedicine, it’s important to choose a safe online cannabis clinic that protects your information. Fortunately, at Elevate Holistics, we can provide secure, same-day appointments with our compassionate cannabis doctors. Additionally, our platform is not only HIPAA compliant and super easy-to-use. 

Product Shortage and Price Increases

The slow rollout of medical cannabis in Arkansas caused some patients to look with longing over the Oklahoma border. In early 2019, AR Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a public warning that cardholders should not make cannabis purchases across state lines and bring them back. With dispensaries delays, no home cultivation, and the ability to purchase in OK, it’s easy to see why the governor was concerned. 

Once dispensaries opened, the lack of supply was apparent. Three cultivators and only a couple of dozen dispensaries across the state was not going to meet demand. 

Unfortunately, cannabis prices have gone up, leaving patients unhappy. They say there’s no use in having a medical card if they have to drive far to get their medicine. 

Some dispensaries have expressed that cultivators have been unable to supply the demand for MMJ products. As a result, they’ve had to raise prices to cut down the traffic in their stores. By June of 2020, there were only five commercial cultivators to supply the whole state. According to Marijuana Business Daily, the state awarded three more licenses to cannabis cultivators to answer the shortage complaints. After this, the initial five sued Arkansas. They claimed it “violated language in the law that stipulated new licenses would be granted only if the existing growers couldn’t meet dispensary demand.” This suggests that, despite complaints, the first five growers felt they were meeting demand. 

It’s About Patient Access

Sadly, governments and businesses are not always thinking about patients first. It's often grassroots movements that get medical cannabis programs implemented in states. Often, these are driven by advocates who believe that everyone should have equal access to their cannabis medicine. 

But when prices are too high, shortages continue, dispensaries are too distant, doctors aren’t understanding, and low-income folks have to dig into their grocery or utility money to pay for their medicine … Are we getting medical cannabis right? 

It's true that a learning curve comes along with the implementation of a medical marijuana program. There are always growing pains and setbacks in any state. But 20 states now have a story of how they came online with medical cannabis. Surely, by now, we can all learn from one another. 

Read about the ins and outs of getting a medical cannabis card in Arkansas.

Where are Arkansas dispensaries near me?

See what’s good and what could use improvement in Pennsylvania’s MMJ program.

Find out what’s going on with medical cannabis in Maryland.