Rebekah Hall

In a meeting Wednesday afternoon, the state Medical Marijuana Commission approved name changes for three dispensaries, a change of ownership request and an officer change. Dr. Joe Thompson, former Arkansas Surgeon General, spoke to the commission about how the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, of which Thompson is president and CEO, will use data from ARSTEMS, the state’s medical marijuana tracking system, to analyze “long term results and benefits” of the medical marijuana program. Commissioners also received an update from Doralee Chandler, director of Alcoholic Beverage Control, on the progress of the 22 remaining dispensaries and two cultivation facilities yet to open in the state. 

Thompson told commissioners that the study conducted by ACHI will use data from ARSTEMS to analyze how the state’s medical marijuana program impacts patients over time. The ability of ACHI to conduct such a study is allowed by Act 948, which passed in the Arkansas Senate in 2017 and amends the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act of 2016. Act 948 requires the reporting of patient and dispensary data to the state Insurance Department so that it can be added to the Arkansas all-payer claims database, which collects large-scale health care data from private and public sources. Thompson said the adoption of health care data from the medical marijuana program into the database is also made possible by the 2015 Arkansas Healthcare Transparency Initiative Act, which supports ACHI’s all-payer claims database project in partnership with the Arkansas Insurance Department. The act mandates that “certain entities” submit claims data to the database, for research purposes and to encourage transparency for Arkansas residents when making health care decisions. 

Thompson requested the commission’s support to incorporate the data from ARSTEMS, which he said would be “de-identified” by removing patient names and addresses, into the larger database. He also presented a draft of a letter of support from the commission that ACHI and other researchers could use when applying for grants that would use information from the database. Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, who chairs the commission, said she would support the use of the ARSTEMS data, but said that a letter of support from the commission for researchers would need to be requested individually per application and tailored for the “science” of each grant. The commission voted to approve the ARSTEMS data being submitted to the all-payers claim database and the issuance of “letters of individual support based on individual science” for grant applicants.  

Directors approved several officer changes for Natural State Medicinals Cultivation in White Hall. Natural State Medicinals requested the appointment of Greg Schneider as COO and the appointment of Glenda Hagood as chief administrative officer for the cultivation facility. Schneider and Hagood both currently work for the company as cultivation facility agents. In turn, Joe Courtright was approved by the commission to resign as CEO, and Stephen LaFrance was approved to resign as a manager of the facility. Natural State Medicinals was also approved to appoint two existing members of the business, Kathryne Deane Peek and Scott Schlesinger, to its board of managers, along with Terry Fitch, who will act as a strategic advisor to the board. The commission also approved the appointment of Donna Mooney, who currently serves on the facility’s board of managers, as the chairperson of the board. 

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Doctor’s Orders, which opened in May in Hot Springs, was approved to change its name to “Suite 443.420 RX, which is slated to open in Conway, was approved to change its name to “420 Dispensary, Inc.” Grassroots, which is set to open later this month at 7303 Kanis Road in Little Rock, was approved to change its name to Herbology. 

Greenlight Dispensary in Helena was approved for several changes in ownership. Mid America Asset Management, which is owned in full by John Mueller, will sell its 25 percent ownership stake to Mueller. Bart Christine will sell half of his 19.65 percent ownership stake to Phillip Allen, an existing member of the company, and the other half of his ownership stake to Mueller, leaving Christine with zero ownership in the company. 

Chandler told the commission that of the 22 dispensaries yet to open, six are estimated to open in November, five are estimated to open in December, and the remaining 11 won’t open until 2020. Chandler said ABC spoke with representatives from each of the unopened dispensaries about their estimated openings, the latest of which Chandler said is in “mid 2020.” Commissioner Travis Story asked if there’s anything the commission can do to “speed them up.” Chandler said the commission doesn’t have the ability to revoke licenses, but ABC does, and it’s in the process of “promulgating” rules for revoking licenses. She said she hoped those rules would be approved and in place by January. While the commission can’t revoke licenses, Chandler said it can vote to not renew individual dispensary licenses when they are up for renewal in June. Dispensaries must file to renew their licenses at least 60 days prior to the June deadline, so the commission would actually be voting on this in April.

Chandler said the Natural State Wellness cultivation facility, which in August estimated an opening date of “late fall,” has requested an inspection and hopes to open in November. Delta Medical Cannabis Company, also in Jackson County, estimates it will be open by the end of the year. 

To read Chandler’s update on all medical marijuana licensees, click here

Chandler also told commissioners that as of Oct. 22, the 10 dispensaries and three cultivation facilities currently in operation have sold 2,159 pounds of medical marijuana, totaling $15.36 million in sales. 

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Commissioners paused for a beat before Henry-Tillman asked, “Is that a lot?” Chandler replied, “Yes, it appears to be a lot.”