Data from the second fiscal year of medical marijuana sales in Arkansas confirms a trend spotted after 2020: Residents in north-central Arkansas are most likely to seek out the ID cards allowing them to buy the stuff.
Fulton County had barely 12,000 residents as of 2020, but 6% of them — 724 — had received Medical Marijuana Registry Identification Cards by June 30, the end of fiscal 2021 for the state government. The statewide average is 3.1%, with the countywide median being 2.61%.
Nine of the 10 counties with the highest concentration of ID cards, 4.45% and above, are clustered between Greers Ferry Lake and the Missouri border, and eight of them are in the region the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission has designated Zone 2.
Garland County, where the state’s first two licensed medical marijuana dispensaries opened in Hot Springs in May 2019, is the geographic outlier. It ranked fifth with 4.73% of its 100,180 residents having been approved for ID cards.
Arkansas Business compared countywide card data prepared by the Arkansas Department of Health with each county’s population as determined by the 2020 Census and ranked them according to the resulting percentage. The ADH card counts are cumulative, capturing all ID cards issued from the spring of 2019 to mid-2021, but not all of them are still active. While a grace period was extended for renewals in mid-2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, state law requires the cards to be renewed annually after a physician certifies that the patient has been diagnosed with one of 18 specific medical conditions. Of 92,417 card applications approved by June 30, about 80,000 are active.
As clear as north-central Arkansas’ enthusiasm for medical cannabis is the apathy in the Delta and south Arkansas. Generally, south and east Arkansas had fewer cards per capita than central and northwest Arkansas. (See map above.) Jefferson County had three marijuana dispensaries, as many as any county except Pulaski, yet only 1.86% of its 67,260 residents had been issued cards.
Counties with higher rates of poverty tend to have fewer marijuana cards, although the correlation is not perfect. Fulton County, with the most cards per capita, has a poverty rate of 17%, above the statewide average of 15.2% calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau. Only 61 cards have been issued in Lee County, where more than 36% of residents live below the poverty line, for a rock-bottom penetration rate of 0.71%. (See list.)
Medical marijuana is not covered by any health insurance plans in Arkansas, and the statewide average price per ounce sold in 2021 was more than $400. But the price moderated in the last half of the year. Robbin Rahman, a Little Rock attorney who runs his parents’ Harvest Cannabis Dispensary in Conway, told Arkansas Business in November that “the average eighth-ounce price that was once $50 is now $20 and $25 in almost any dispensary you walk into,” although the price varies by variety.
The 37 dispensaries that were open during all or some of 2021 sold 40,347 pounds of medical marijuana for total revenue of $264.9 million, according to Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Medical Marijuana Commission. The commission released the number of pounds sold by each dispensary during the calendar year, and Arkansas Business has used the statewide average price of $6,565 per pound to estimate revenue for each on the list of dispensaries.
3J Investments, which has a license for the state’s 38th dispensary, has submitted a request for final inspection and will be free to open when that is completed successfully, Hardin said. The company is expected to notify the Medical Marijuana Commission of a name change in time for its March meeting, he said.
Neither the wholesale price nor the amount of cannabis sold by each of the state’s eight licensed cultivation facilities is public information. Arkansas Business has ranked them below by the number of employees affiliated with each facility as of January. Every direct employee of a licensed enterprise must be registered with the commission, as well as indirect employees such as guards employed by a third-party security company.