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Marijuana License Applicant Plans Solvent-Free Menu

3 min read

David Owen, co-founder of Ouachita Farms near Hot Springs Village, is excited but a little frustrated.

His application for a state license to process medicinal cannabis was to go before the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission on Monday, but he got word late last week that the commission meeting had been put on hold until April 19 in Little Rock.

“We’ve been waiting for this license a long time, so we hated to see the delay,” Owen told Arkansas Business by telephone. “We expected licenses to be available this time last year.”

Instead, the state began accepting applications for third-party marijuana processing and transport licenses in early February.

Ouachita Farms, which for two years has been in a different kind of cannabis business — growing and processing hemp and labeling seeds — is one of two processors up for licensing next month. The other is Dark Horse Medicinals of Little Rock, which has had hemp processing operations in Stuttgart since hemp was legalized nationwide by the 2018 farm bill.

The state has granted only one processing license so far, and hadn’t received any applications for transport licenses as of last week.

Shake Extractions LLC of Johnson, which got the state’s first processing license in early March, has been branding and making chemical-free CBD products for more than a year, COO Julie Brents said.

Owen, who started Ouachita Farms with his brothers Jeff, Marc and Mitchell, as well as Cesar Mendoza, said the company is dedicated to producing all its marijuana products without using solvents. Ouachita Farms’ extraction of full-spectrum hemp products has never relied on solvents, Owen said, and that policy will continue as it processes marijuana.

That is, of course, if the company is granted a license, which appears likely but isn’t guaranteed.

“Most companies in this industry start with a solvent like ethanol or propane, but we use only heat and pressure, ice and water,” Owen said. “And if you’ll look in any established and developed cannabis market, you’ll see that products made with these methods rise to the top of the premium market.”

Products like live rosin and bubble hash have earned praise from cannabis patients because they are chemical-free and full spectrum, he said. 

The products “command bigger prices because of the quality and time and effort involved in creating them,” he said. “It’s not as efficient as using the solvents commonly used in industry, but cannabis consumers tend to be aware of what’s going into their bodies. They know that if the products made with solvent use aren’t purged correctly, there will be a risk of residual solvents in the final product.”

Owen said he has 20 employees now, and predicts that the medicinal marijuana side of the operation, which will be physically distanced from the hemp operation, will require 30 additional workers.

“Much of the equipment for the process is the same, but we’ll be in a completely different building,” Owen said.

He hopes to start processing marijuana in the summer, license timing permitting, and to obtain marijuana for processing from the state’s cultivators and dispensary grow operations.

“We’ll have to be creative in getting the material until there are more cultivators in the market,” Owen said, noting that the state has licensed three additional cultivation companies to join the state’s original five cultivation licensees.

“Right now they can’t even produce enough marijuana product for the market in general, so in dispensaries you’ll see that concentrates have fallen by the wayside. It’s coming, but it will take time.”

Owen said that exclusive partnerships might be likely for grow dispensaries that would offer cannabis for processing under a deal that would give them exclusive branding on the extract products. 

“We’re looking forward to exploring possibilities with all of the companies in the Arkansas market,” he said.

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