After two months and $2 million in sales, Arkansas’ spanking new medical marijuana industry is poised to break a supply logjam.
A third of five cultivation sites is harvesting medical cannabis, dispensaries with clearance to grow their own small supplies have begun opening around the state, and 15,000-plus Arkansans have medical marijuana cards.
More customers are coming, too: More than a thousand patient applications were pending last week as a fifth dispensary opened only 15 minutes from downtown Little Rock. Industry officials have speculated that 80,000 or more Arkansans may eventually qualify for medical cannabis.
“I think we’re off to a good start, but there are more things to be done, more dispensaries that need to be opened up,” said Robert DeBin, president of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association. “Patients are frustrated with driving hours to get the medication they need. Northwest Arkansas is particularly underserved, but that will be changing in the near future as dispensaries open and start going, and the other two cultivation centers get started.”
Arkansas’ medical marijuana program, approved by voters in November 2016, was slowed by the intricacies of birthing a highly regulated and medically supervised system. DeBin and other industry officials said wet weather and construction delays had set back openings by cultivators and dispensaries.
Arkansas has licensed 32 dispensaries in eight zones around the state, including 22 with clearance to grow their own supply, up to 50 mature plants. But until three weeks ago, only two retail sites were selling cannabis, both in Hot Springs. “Now several are opening all over the state,” said DeBin, who is also a 4.46% owner of Natural State Medicinals Cultivation, a multimillion-dollar growing center in White Hall. He made clear he was speaking in his capacity as the industry association chief.
Hot Springs’ two early outlets, Doctor’s Orders RX and Green Springs Medical, opened May 10 and 12, respectively. Together, they had sold a combined 300 pounds of marijuana by the beginning of last week, about $2 million worth. Green Springs is starting cultivation this week, the first dispensary to do so, said Dragan Vicentic, the company’s chairman, CEO and 60% owner.
“It’s an area we’re eagerly moving into,” said Vicentic, a veteran businessman with several enterprises in the Hot Springs area, including a used car dealership. “At the prices the cultivators are charging us right now, that’s the equivalent of over $150,000 of product that we could generate a month” by growing strains in controlled rooms of Green Springs’ heavily guarded 8,000-SF dispensary.
“The grow operation has to be within the licensed facility — there’s no off-site growing — and you have to invest in it.” Two of Vicentic’s 15 employees are experienced growers, and he says the cultivation operation will take up a little less than half of his space.
“You have to have a ton of air conditioning to offset heat from the high-pressure sodium lights used to grow the plants, and high-dollar commercial dehydrators,” he told Arkansas Business. “We’ve spent $40,000 on dehumidifiers.”
Another dispensary owner, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, agreed that growing requires hundreds of thousands in investment, but he considers the cost worthwhile.
“You’ve got to have a grower and an indoor facility, and you have to have a huge investment in lights and technical features to avoid pesticides and contamination, and to keep people from smelling the cannabis all the way down the road,” he said.
“It’s just a mini version of a cultivation facility, basically, except you’re limited in the number of plants you can grow. That makes it a little harder, because if you want to produce a fair amount, you have to make the plants pretty big. So it’s a challenge, to say the least.”
Most of the state’s cannabis will come from five industrial-size cultivation sites. The first, Bold Team of Cotton Plant (Woodruff County), has been joined by DeBin’s Natural State Medicinals and by Osage Creek in Berryville, which produced its first crop last month. Two cultivation sites in Newport (Jackson County) are expected to open by the end of the year.
For about six weeks, Hot Springs was Arkansas’ medical marijuana capital, the only town with cannabis for sale. “We’ve definitely been seeing people from all over the state,” Vicentic told Arkansas Business. “It’s been rewarding to get emails and thanks from patients who are finally getting this essential medication. Grandparents are playing with their grandchildren again, getting up and around without pain and without opioids.”
Arkansas Natural Products opened its store in Clinton on June 20, followed by Greenlight Dispensary in Helena on June 27, cutting the driving time for many customers. Native Green Wellness opened its dispensary Wednesday in Hensley, the nearest cannabis outlet to the capital city, which may not have a dispensary of its own for months.
CEO Kattie Hansen of Native Green told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week that the dispensary hopes to sell about 40 pounds of cannabis per week. The growing operation will be ramped up after the opening rush.
Hansen owns 48% of the dispensary; her father, Walter Koon, owns 45%.
Though Hensley is in Pulaski County, the dispensary site is across the line in Saline County, a crucial fact in the state’s cannabis zoning system. Native Green Wellness is in Zone 6 with the Hot Springs dispensaries, not Zone 5, home to dispensaries coming to Little Rock, Sherwood and Conway.
Grassroots OPCO at 7303 Kanis Road in Little Rock, former home to Joubert’s Pub, is projected for a late-summer opening, sometime before Natural State Wellness opens for business nearby at 900 S. Rodney Parham Road. Native Green and Grassroots OPCO will have grow operations. Natural State Wellness will not.
Natural Relief Dispensary in Sherwood has not yet announced an opening schedule.
Fiddler’s Green of Mountain View, another dispensary, has asked for a state inspection, one of the last steps before opening, according to Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration, which handles medical marijuana enforcement through its Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. If the inspection passes muster, Fiddler’s will be free to join the dispensary band.
A Rush on Gummies
Hardin, who speaks for the ABC and the state’s five-member Medical Marijuana Commission, gave an update on the major cultivation sites. “Three of the five licensed cultivators are now harvesting product for dispensaries (Osage Creek in Berryville is the most recent to harvest),” he said in a June 27 email.
“The two located in Newport remain under construction. ABC has not been contacted by either Newport facility to schedule the required inspection that must take place before seeds are planted.”
Bold Team, the first cultivator to market, is pushing to increase production of edible gummies, which have sold out within hours of delivery since first hitting dispensary shelves three weeks ago. “We sell out in four or five hours, 800 packages,” Vicentic said. “It’s definitely a favorite.”
Robert Lercher, director of customer relations with Bold Team, said that after starting with a modest production of 3,500 gummies a week, the cultivator is ramping up to manufacture nearly 10 times as many. “I knew edibles would be popular, but I had no idea the demand would be this strong,” Lercher said. “We have recently scaled to produce 28,000 to 30,000 gummies weekly.”
Lercher said last week was the company’s first with new production equipment.
“They are getting familiar with everything this week. In any other business I’d expect a lag time,” but team members are quick learners, he said Tuesday. “I expect to be fully ramped by the end of the week.”
To avoid devoting any of its crop of cannabis flower to the gummy production process, Bold Team makes edible products out of trimmed leaves and “biomass,” Lercher said.
Grow and Non-Grow Marijuana Dispensaries
Alphabetical by location
- Arkansas Medicinal Source Patient Center
Contact: Erik Danielson, (479) 935-8313
- The Releaf Center
Contact: Roger Song, (479) 445-0304
- NEA Full Spectrum Medicine
Contact: Gerald Scot Sale, (870) 324-1733
Contact: Elizabeth Barnett, (501) 375-1786
- Noah's Ark LLC
Contact: Katie Crimmins, (877) 275-1286
- Acanza Health Group
Contact: Janinne Riggs, (800) 266-9057
- Valentine Holdings
Contact: Donald Parker, (870) 268-7601
- Fort Cannabis CO
Contact: Jeffrey Paul Scholtes, (479) 313-0100
- Native Green Wellness Center
Contact: Kattie Hansen, (501) 303-0221
- Doctor's Orders RX
Contact: Donald Sears, (501) 690-9464
- Green Springs Medical
Contact: Dragan Vicentic, (501) 623-4784
- Natural State Medical Group
Contact: James Adametz, (501) 690-2855
- Grassroots OPCO
Contact: Lindsay Lovett Estes, (773) 870-2439
- Plant Family Therapeutics
Contact: Clint Mickle, (501) 472-9073
- Fiddler's Green
Contact: Lisa Murphy, (870) 307-4646
- Pain Free RX
Contact: Mary Frances Sears, (501) 803-9525
Contact: Adam Harrison, (501) 472-4424
- RXMED Inc.
Contact: Carol Moore, (870) 723-1993
- Arkansas Patient Services Company
Contact: Justin Pickens, (501) 551-6222
- Comprehensive Care Group
Contact: Donald Jay Marshall, (501) 562-7379
- Delta Cannabis Co.
Contact: Dr. Larry Johnson/Doug Falls, (870) 930-8369
- THC RX
Contact: Todd Sears, (501) 690-0846
- Arkadelphia Dispensary LLC
Contact: Mark McGrew, (870) 692-7963
- River Valley Dispensary LLC
Contact: Jennifer Paige Fisher
- Johnson County Dispensary
Contact: Lee Hatcher, (501) 517-5332
- Arkansas Natural Products
Contact: Ezechiel Nehus, (479) 747-4780
- Big Fish of Central Arkansas
Contact: Josh Landers, (501) 773-9895
- Delta Cultivators
Contact: Ed Pat Wright, (870) 572-1157
- Natural State Wellness Dispensary
Contact: Henry Wilkins, (501) 235-8336
- Pine Bluff Agriceuticals
Contact: Michael Wilkins, (479) 747-0748
- Natural Relief Dispensary
Contact: Michael Faught, (501) 680-4936
- Bloom Medicinals of AR LLC
Contact: Sharon Vire, (561) 620-3600