New Faces as Marijuana Board Takes Up Crucial Dispensary Issue

by Kyle Massey  on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 8:17 am   1 min read


The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is heading into this afternoon's long-awaited session on the selection of 32 cannabis dispensary sites around the state with a couple of newcomers, including a pediatric care nurse appointed earlier this week.

Justin Smith, a nurse who manages patient care in the neuroscience unit at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, will be part of the five-member regulatory panel when it gathers at 4:30 p.m. at the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board offices near the state Capitol.

The ABC, the commission and the Arkansas Department of Health oversee the state's medical marijuana program, approved by voters in 2016 but plagued by bureaucratic and legal setbacks in the 26 months since.

Five medical marijuana cultivation sites have state approval and are gearing up, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson says medical cannabis could be available to Arkansas' 7,000 state-authorized marijuana patients as early as April. The biggest decision left for the commission is selecting the dispensary sites, which is sure to be a contentious decision. Legal challenges to the cultivation sites delayed licensing, and a cloud of litigation lingers over those businesses.

Smith, seen as an ally of medical cannabis patients, replaced James Miller of Bryant, a lobbyist who resigned in December to devote more time to his career and family, including a baby girl.

The other newcomer to the board is Capt. Kevin Russell of the Benton Police Department, formerly a staunch opponent of medical marijuana in the state. He now says the voters have spoken and he's eager to see the program up and running. Russell replaces Dr. Carlos Roman, whose term expired under a cloud of controversy over a well-publicized meeting he had with a failed cultivation site applicant.



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