A medical marijuana dispensary that opened Friday in Conway is the state's 10th legal outlet for cannabis, state officials said Wednesday, a day after an Alcoholic Beverage Control leader lamented the slow rollout of dispensaries.
Harvest, at 1200 Thomas G. Wilson Drive, passed a final ABC inspection on Tuesday. It opened at 9 a.m. Friday, leaving 22 licensed dispensaries yet to open across the state.
Since the state's first dispensary opened in Hot Springs on May 10, patients have bought more than 1,730 pounds of medical marijuana totaling $12.35 million in sales, according to ABC spokesman Scott Hardin. Nearly 25,000 Arkansans have qualified for cards allowing medical cannabis use, and the number is steadily growing.
The Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration's ABC Division oversees enforcement of medical marijuana rules. Its director of enforcement, Boyce Hamlet, told a gathering in Hot Springs on Wednesday night that the slow pace of adding dispensaries was creating a demand problem in Arkansas, keeping medical marijuana prices high and driving patients to the black market.
The chief enforcer in the newly legal medical cannabis industry, authorized by a 2016 statewide vote, asked what will happen if prices remain "through the roof," according to the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record. "What are people going to do? They're going to hit the streets. We don't want that." The state constitutional amendment on medical marijuana gave the state no oversight on pricing, which is set entirely by the market.
With just 10 of 32 authorized dispensaries in operation, prices are running at more than $15 a gram so far, among the highest prices for legal cannabis in the nation. Patients are authorized to buy 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks, about $1000 at today's prices, though most patients require far less. Rock City Harvest LLC, which is opening the Conway dispensary, is owned by Elizabeth Barnett, 41%; Mizan Rahman, 34%; Rebecca Nickerson, 20%; and John Arthur Hunt, 5%.
Little Rock business practices attorney Robbin Rahman, who is Mizan Rahman's son, is serving as spokesman for the new dispensary. The state's open dispensaries are Harvest; Doctors Orders and Green Springs Medical, both in Hot Springs; Arkansas Natural Products in Clinton; Greenlight Dispensary in Helena; Native Green Wellness in Hensley; Fiddler's Green in Mountain View; Releaf Center and The Source in Bentonville; and Acanza in Fayetteville.
As the first cannabis dispensary to open in Zone 5, the most populous of the eight sectors the state designated for four dispensaries each, Harvest expects to be busy, Rahman said, describing a 5,000-SF dispensary and 3,000-SF cultivation operation in east Conway, behind the Lewis Crossing Shopping Center.
"The front portion of the building includes a spacious retail area that will display a wide selection of non-cannabis items, including vaporizers and other types of hardware that patients may find useful as they figure out what ingestion method works best for them," said Rahman, a business practice attorney with the Barber Law Firm. The centerpiece will be a circular dispensary room.
"It has four consultation stations where every patient will receive one-on-one service from one of our staff members," Rahman said. "Each consultation table will be fully stocked with a variety of cannabis flower, edibles, concentrates and topicals sourced from one of Arkansas' three currently-operating cultivation facilities."
The product line will include a full selection of natural products, including CBD, he said. Locally sourced roasted coffee and herbal remedies will be on hand.
"Our main focus for our non-cannabis area will be to showcase some of the truly great Arkansas-based producers of natural products," he said. "We are very proud of our design and think it will provide Arkansas patients with a truly unique experience."
The cultivation center will be 3,000 SF in the rear of the building, and Rahman hopes to have it operating by the end of the month.
"We intend to cultivate a selection of specialty genetics that will be unavailable anywhere else in Arkansas," he said. Cultivators will supply most of the dispensary's inventory, he said, but he expects in-house varieties to be "among the most sought-after in the state."
He wouldn't say precisely how much the partners have invested in the project so far.
"The capital investment ... is about what you would expect for a highly regulated business that requires a significant amount of security and infrastructure," Rahman said. "But the real investment, the one that can't be easily calculated, is the human capital. ... We believe in a small business approach and have built Harvest in that model, and that's how we intend to operate it."
One key payer will be General Manager Taylor Coleman, who operated a Colorado dispensary for several years, Rahman said. He also noted that his mother, Libby Barnett, who operated a Conway nursery for two decades, has "un-retired" for the cannabis industry. She owns the greatest share of the dispensary, 41%; her husband, Mizan Rahman, has 34 percent.
While cautioning that sales volume is hard to predict, Robbin Rahman said the Conway region has "a bit more built-in population than some of the dispensaries that have opened before us. Plus, our nearest competitor is a fairly significant drive away from us. I definitely expect to be busy."