Erika Gee is a 1998 graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a 2001 graduate of its Bowen School of Law, where she was a member of the Law Review. She started her legal career at Wright Lindsey & Jennings in 2001. From there she became a staff attorney for the Arkansas Municipal League and then moved to the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office, where she started as an assistant AG in 2007 and rose to the position of chief deputy AG in 2014. She returned to WLJ in 2015 and now leads its cannabis and industrial hemp team.
Erika Gee served as general counsel and prosecutor for the Arkansas State Board of Pharmacy during part of her time at the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office.
How did you get involved in medical marijuana as an area of legal practice? Are your clients generally marijuana businesses, or are they other businesses affected by legalization?
When I returned to WLJ in 2015 after eight years at the Attorney General’s Office, a large part of my practice focused on representing regulated industries, like pharmacy and alcohol, in licensing and compliance issues. Although it might seem odd, pharmacy and medical marijuana have a lot in common from a regulatory perspective, so my experience translated quite seamlessly.
I now represent growers, processors and dispensaries with medical marijuana businesses in Arkansas and Oklahoma, as well as testing laboratories, security, banking solutions and ancillary businesses. We are also beginning to expand this practice to Missouri.
Regulating a brand-new industry in the state is tricky. What do you think Arkansas got right and what would you like to see changed?
It’s been interesting working in this industry in both Arkansas and Oklahoma, as the two states have taken wildly different approaches.
I think that Arkansas did a great job developing a regulatory structure from the beginning that will ensure that the product patients buy at a dispensary is not black market or riddled with pesticides.
One change I’d like to see happen soon is for the processor licenses authorized in 2017 to be issued so that patients can have access to a greater variety of tinctures, capsules, edibles and other non-smokable forms of medical marijuana. Many patients benefit from different methods of delivery, especially ones that don’t require smoking, but right now there are relatively few businesses making these products out of the raw flower.
What is the most misunderstood part of our medical marijuana law?
It’s been very hard for people to understand why it has taken so long for the dispensaries to open and for product to become available, especially since Oklahoma’s program rolled out at lightning speed. The short answer is that the Arkansas program has been structured from the beginning to be tightly regulated. That’s good for safety and compliance, but it is a much slower process.
How dramatic a difference would be seen with legal recreational use, as opposed to medical cannabis?
The difference would primarily be the visibility of marijuana to the nonconsuming public, which would depend on how the “adult use” was structured.
If the structure authorized a wide-open market, there would be more retail outlets than nonconsumers might like. But wide legalization could bring consumption out of the black market and let products be lab-tested and regulated. That’s significant, especially in light of illnesses from black market vaping and problems with unregulated CBD products.
Aside from full legalization, I think Arkansas would benefit from expanding our existing program to allow additional serious conditions to qualify for a medical marijuana card.