Almost one year since the opening of the first dispensary in the state, Arkansans are continuing to buy medical marijuana, with some dispensaries reporting record sales over the past few weeks.
According to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, approximately 11,000 pounds have been sold in total. Those sales amount to $73 million.
Scott Hardin, director of communications for the department, says purchasing habits of medical marijuana have changed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
"It’s really been interesting to watch. It looks like Arkansans are not only purchasing, but making the maximum purchase, or many Arkansans are making the maximum purchase every 14 days which is 2.5 ounces. Which is a really expensive purchase. It could get up to $1,000 just for that two-week purchase," Hardin said.
Since March 11, the day Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed an executive order declaring a public health emergency, Arkansans have spent $24.37 million on medical marijuana. That amount equals 33% or roughly one third of total sales since last May. Hardin believes the coronavirus pandemic is playing a role in this increase in purchasing.
"We saw the CDC in March, with the recommendation that Americans have a two-week supply of prescription drugs. And it looks to us like in that exact same time frame... people made the trip to the local pharmacy and then followed that up to the dispensary, really taking those guidelines pretty seriously and making that maximum purchase," Hardin said.
Only 22 of the allowed 33 dispensaries are currently open in Arkansas. The Medical Marijuana Commission must make renewal decisions for all license holders by the end of June.
Before the pandemic, Hardin says the initial plan was to have each owner of the 33 dispensaries and five cultivation centers to meet with the commission in public meetings on renewal.
While those meetings will likely take place via videoconferencing instead, they will still happen and Hardin thinks the main factor in deciding whether to renew a license depends on if the dispensary is open to the public.
"The commission overall has expressed frustration with those that are not yet open. I think the good news is that most of those, the ten or eleven now that are yet to open, it looks like they’re all very close," Hardin said.
However, Hardin does think the coronavirus pandemic could play a factor in the renewal process and while renewal is likely for all license holders, he said it isn’t a guarantee.