Even though Arkansas’ medical marijuana law took effect on November 9, 2016, those anxious to apply for a registration card are still waiting for their opportunity. Held up for the better part of a year due to lawmakers, the wait is almost over as Arkansas will soon be accepting medical cannabis applications.

Why Has It Taken So Long?

In a progressive move from a state that’s counted as part of the Bible Belt, Arkansas passed a law allowing cannabis for medicinal use. However, it wasn’t long before lawmakers with concerns enacted emergency legislation, halting the new law. House Bill 1026 required that more time be spent sorting out the specifics of the law. Issues such as where the medicine should be grown and how it should be dispensed were only a few of the expressed concerns.

Jerry Cox, president of Family Council, raised concerns about people who he believes will try to take advantage of the law. His major worry is that people will claim an illness that they don’t really have in hopes that a doctor will certify them to use cannabis anyway. Health conditions, he states, such as nausea and pain, are hard to prove and that doctors have to rely on the word of their patients. Ultimately, he feels lawmakers “…missed numerous opportunities to make the whole process safer for citizens.”

With that same concern in mind, it seems, the Senate passed House Bill 1400 on March 23, 2017. Placing a ban on smoking cannabis anywhere tobacco smoking isn’t allowed, lawmakers put this and other restrictions into effect. The only people allowed to smoke medical cannabis must be 21 years of age. Other restrictions include not smoking around anyone under 14 years old and not smoking near a woman who is known to be pregnant.

Lamenting the lack of more regulations, Jerry Cox was at least pacified that some were put into place. Dr. Greg Bledsoe, Arkansas Surgeon General, also opposed the law and supported the worries of Cox regarding safety. According to Dr. Bledsoe, THC levels in certain edible products are hard to determine. He also fears that with edibles, the packaging may appeal to children who would then be exposed to unknown amounts of THC. With mutual concerns, Cox wishes a blanket ban would’ve been put on smoking cannabis and using it in edibles.

Applications on the way

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On Friday, June 30, 2017, those seeking to grow or supply cannabis can begin submitting their applications to the Medical Marijuana Commission. Those who want to become medical marijuana patients can submit their applications to the Health Department. Whether lawmakers or citizens opposed to the law like it or not, it’s expected that anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 people will apply for medical cannabis during the application period that will only last a few short months. After September 18, 2017, the state will stop accepting them.

Certain criteria must be met in order for an individual to qualify. Just as in other states, the law requires a doctor’s certification. The doctor and patient must posses an established relationship. Based on what a doctor knows of a patient’s history, they can certify them to use medical cannabis. Patients then submit their applications with a $50 fee. If approved, they have to renew their certification yearly.

The list of qualifying conditions is relatively common. Including health issues like cancer, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder, people with a range of conditions can seek a doctor’s approval.

Founder of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association, Storm Nolan knows there are so many people waiting to legally use the medicine that will offer them relief. Having lost his mother to an opioid addiction, he knows the consequences first-hand of addiction to narcotic painkillers. She suffered from chronic pain. Nolan is hoping to gain permission to cultivate medical cannabis for future patients. According to him, it’s time for the people who need medical cannabis to get it.

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