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A Closer Look: What Recreational Marijuana Would Mean for Arkansas

Officials with the ReLeaf Center in Bentonville discuss growing operations and the impact legalizing recreational marijuana could have on the business.

BENTONVILLE, Ark — To date, five marijuana petitions have been filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office. Each amendment’s sponsor is working to get it on the ballot in November 2022, six years after the state legalized medical marijuana. Each petition needs 89,151 signatures by July 8, 2022, to qualify. If any of them do, Arkansas voters will get to decide whether to expand legal access to marijuana in the Natural State. 

So how would the legalization of recreational marijuana impact business for local dispensaries? 

Medical marijuana is a booming business in Arkansas, raking in nearly $55 million in tax revenue since mid-2019. $2.56 million of that was collected in November 2021 alone, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA).

“The program itself has evolved and is continuing to grow. There are more patients all the time,” said Kyle Campbell, manager at the ReLeaf Center in Bentonville.

According to the DFA, patients have spent a total of $486 million on 71,829 pounds of medical marijuana at the state’s 37 dispensaries. 

Since opening in Bentonville in August 2019, the ReLeaf Center Dispensary and Farm is leading sales in the state, with 7,457.11 pounds sold. 329.93 pounds were sold in November 2021. 

The following is a list of sales from all dispensaries in Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley, according to data provided by DFA spokesman Scott Hardin on Dec. 20, 2021:

  • Since the ReLeaf Center (Bentonville)first opened on Aug. 7, 2019, the company sold 7,457.11 pounds of medical marijuana.
    • 329.93 pounds sold in November 2021
  • Since The Source (Bentonville)first opened on  Aug. 15, 2019, the company sold 3,632.39 pounds of medical marijuana.
    • 109.23 pounds sold in November 2021
  • Since Acanza (Fayetteville)first opened on Sept. 14, 2019, the company sold 4,339.74 pounds of medical marijuana.
    • 163.70 pounds sold in November 2021
  • Since Purspirit Cannabis (Fayetteville)opened on Nov. 20, 2019, the company sold 3,571.11 pounds of medical marijuana.
    • 130.97 pounds sold in November 2021
  • Since 420 Dispensary (Russellville)opened on Dec. 17, 2019,  the company sold 1,210.83 pounds of medical marijuana.
    • 51.93 pounds sold in November 2021
  • Since Fort Cannabis (Fort Smith)opened on Dec. 18, 2019, the company sold 2,975.83 pounds of medical marijuana.
    • 117.51 pounds sold in November 2021
  • Since Enlightened Cannabis for People (Clarksville)opened on Aug. 7, 2020, the company sold 425.06 pounds of medical marijuana.
    • 32.33 pounds sold in November 2021
  • Since Osage Creek Dispensary (Fayetteville, formerly Natural Root Wellness)opened on June 18, 2021, the company sold 299.21 pounds of medical marijuana.
    • 78.10 pounds sold in November 2021

“The biggest lesson we have learned is just being able to adapt to everything that is always changing,” Campbell said.

Campbell says the industry is in its infancy and that means growing pains. A supply shortage in early 2020 right as the COVID-19 pandemic hit impacted patients and the dispensary.

“If they were to open up and allow recreational to happen, I believe that that would allow more cultivators as well," Campbell said. "So there would be more product influx into the market also."

In the meantime, the ReLeaf Center is expanding its own facility to serve more patients now and prepare for the future.

“Two or three harvests come through at this point and we’ve started selling our own product,” Campbell said.

Its grow operation is allowed 50 mature plants at a time, leading to more product varieties and competition between products.

“We only want to see prices go down – allow more access for more people,” Campbell said.

People like Bonnie Omicinski from Siloam Springs. The retired nurse now uses medical marijuana for neuropathy and depression after she says multiple traditional pharmaceuticals weren’t helping.

“I just have really walked into this era of my life and have enjoyed retirement and the ability to reflect on what I want in my body healthwise. Medications are chemicals, they’re not natural. Marijuana is from the ground, from the earth and very natural,” Omicinski said. “Using that peppy marijuana, I’m up and going and feel great whereas before I was sitting in the house not doing anything.”

She says she’s signed several petitions to support legalizing recreational marijuana and believes the stigma surrounding it stems from misconception.

“Most people think of marijuana from the 70s being the wild wacky weed, Dazed and Confused, Cheech and Chong,” Omicinski said.

“We have so many people that, they’ve been told by their doctor that they could really benefit from this and they’ve been told their whole life that this is something that’s bad and illegal,” Campbell said. 

Instead, Omicinski urges voters to consider the financial benefits of more tax dollars being spent on cannabis.

“We might take away monies from Big Pharma - but it would be put toward natural things and it’s high dollar," she said. "I mean, I’m not talking chump change. It’s billions of dollars for the economy."

“Tax money is always good for the state, especially when you look at Arkansas,” Campbell said.

With more patients spending more money comes the need for more help. The ReLeaf Center expanded its workforce from 12 to 55 employees in just the last two years. If recreational were to pass, it’s ready to grow its business even more.

“Whether that’s the state allowing us to open multiple dispensaries in the state or just operating a larger facility. Whatever that is, we’re totally on board,” Campbell said.

Campbell says the ReLeaf Center is seeing three times as many patients walk through the doors on a daily basis now compared to when the dispensary first opened. More than 80,000 patients currently have a medical marijuana license in Arkansas. You can learn more about medical marijuana in the state through the Arkansas Department of Health, including which 18 conditions currently qualify for a license.

The five marijuana petitions currently filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office as of January 2022 are:

  1. The Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Amendment of 2022 — filed May 22, 2020, by Arkansas True Grass 
  2. Arkansas Cannabis Industry Amendment — filed May 25, 2021, by Clair Danner
  3. Arkansas Adult Use and Expungement Marijuana Amendment — filed Nov. 4, 2021
  4. Arkansas Marijuana Amendment 2022 — filed Dec. 29, 2021
  5. An Amendment to Authorize the Possession, Personal Use, and Consumption of Cannabis by Adults, to Authorize the Cultivation and Sale of Cannabis by Licensed Commercial Facilities, and to Provide for the Regulation of those Facilities — filed Jan. 24, 2022

RELATED: Medical marijuana expands to telehealth in Arkansas

RELATED: Arkansas medical marijuana sales grow over $250 million in 2021

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