LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — As Arkansas dispensaries continue to sell the first harvest of medical marijuana, cultivators and patients are looking toward edibles as the next stage of production.
Advocates say edibles are a more controlled way to consume the drug and that they think demand is high. It's not clear when edibles might become available, what types will be produced or how much they will cost, but cultivators and dispensaries are limited in what kinds they can manufacture and how they can package them, said Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin.
Voters approved a medical marijuana amendment in 2016. Only two dispensaries, both in Hot Springs, are licensed and only one cultivator has harvested a crop, though two others expect to harvest their own this summer.
As of Tuesday night, the two dispensaries, Doctor's Orders RX and Green Springs Medical, had sold more than 26 pounds of the drug in its flower form and totaled sales of around $177,000.
According to rules by the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which regulates medical marijuana, cultivators and dispensaries can't process or manufacture edibles that are "likely to appeal to minors," which includes "candy, cookies, and brownies." Edibles also can't be modeled after foods primarily consumed by or marketed to children, or be in familiar shapes like animals, vehicles or characters.
Additionally, edibles can't be manufactured by adding cannabinoid products to commercially available items, though patients can buy extracts and add them to those products at home.
And by law, edibles can't be sold in non-childproof packaging or containers that might appeal to children by their shape, color, taste or design.
Beyond that, Hardin said, packaging should employ muted colors and simple designs.
"The concern is the presentation and whether it might imitate a common product that's for children," Hardin said. "Certainly the product also does fall within those regulations but in the day to day check our agents will be looking at the packaging."
Bailey Moll, a spokesman for Doctor's Orders RX, said that although the dispensary can legally package the edibles, they'll probably rely on the cultivator.
David Couch, the attorney who wrote the medical marijuana amendment, said he thinks demand for edibles will exceed demand for the flower, which is typically smoked.
Since each batch of a product should have the same amount of THC, the drug will be more consistent.
"It's more of a controlled dosage," Couch said.
He also said he's not worried about the restrictions on what edibles can be produced or what they can look like.
"I think you could make a gelatin square plain. I think you could make a wafer plain," he said, also suggesting gel caps or small chocolate squares.
The state's health department oversees product testing for all forms of medical marijuana, Hardin said. The state conducts that oversight through Steep Hill, a marijuana testing lab in Little Rock, which will conduct quality assurance tests at the dispensaries.
He also explained that the weight of the entire edible will not be considered against a patient's ability to purchase 2.5 ounces every 14 days, just the actual marijuana in the product.