The music blared and the crowd hummed with excitement today in the underground corridors of Simmons Bank Arena, where hundreds gathered for the second and final day of the Cannabis and Wellness Expo.
Attendees packed a room to learn about culinary cannabis from a cooking expert, showed up half an hour early to grab a seat for a separate cooking demonstration, talked to industry employees about cannabis products in the exhibit hall and learned about new products coming from the state’s cannabis producers.
Music ranging from Donna Summer and James Brown to a dance remix of Don’t Stop Believin’ rang out near the entrance, where attendees visited booths from Good Day Farm and Custom Cannabis dispensary.
Down a nearby hallway was a quiet reminder of the reason for the occasion as a line of more than 20 people extended into a dimly lit hallway, patiently waiting to meet with a doctor in hopes of being certified for a medical marijuana card. The state’s medical marijuana program requires patients to have at least one of 17 qualifying conditions.
Among the people in the line was a 20-year-old student at a local university who said he uses marijuana every day to treat his chronic back pain and obsessive compulsive disorder. He said he has used cannabis in many forms, including smoking and taking edibles, and that the products help his pain go away and supplement his anti-depressants.
Although he said he has never been arrested for using cannabis, he said the main appeal of getting a card is that it would allow him to carry cannabis legally in his car. Cannabis is illegal federally and, on the state level, is only legal within the parameters of the medical marijuana program.
The third-year college student said his college doesn’t allow cannabis on campus, which he said is “kind of bullshit,” especially considering the alternative for many ailments is to take opioids, which he said he preferred to avoid.
In the exhibit hall, Merry Watson, a budtender at Osage Creek Dispensary in Eureka Springs, described her fulfillment working in the cannabis industry. The dispensary moved from Fayetteville to Eureka Springs last year and is providing access to patients who previously had to make round-trip drives of three to five hours to get their medical cannabis, she said.
Watson, who has a degree in biology and chemistry, has worked as an elementary school teacher and a nurse but said she is particularly proud to be working at the dispensary, which she said is putting patient care above profits.
“I’m so proud of our mission,” she said.
Around the corner, Danielle Buntyon, the owner of Mink and Kimball Extracts, a cannabis processor in Marion, described several THC products she has produced, including a THC jam, chocolates, rosin vapes and keefs. The products are sold in about 15 dispensaries around the state, she said. The products weren’t on display, although she did display her lines of CBD products called Jade’s Elevation.
A few steps away, Casey Efting relaxed with colleagues before entering into a conversation on the rapidly changing cannabis market in Missouri. Efting is the director of retail operations for Greenlight, which runs three dispensaries in Arkansas and 15 in Missouri. The Show-Me State legalized recreational marijuana at the polls in November and opened up to recreational customers earlier this year.
Efting said the market exploded there overnight, with the number of customers visiting the stores increasingly drastically, but he noted that his business didn’t create the consumers. The people had already been eagerly awaiting easy and safe access to cannabis.
Efting, who has worked in the industry for a decade, noted there is a wide variety of cannabis consumers and called the stores “great equalizers.” Educators, executives, service industry employees and soccer moms are all cannabis consumers, he said.
“It’s more of a mainstream part of life than people are willing to admit,” he said.
A panel of representatives from Osage Creek Cultivation, Natural State Medicinals, Good Day Farm and Dark Horse Medicinals gathered near the end of the day to discuss new products and share their thoughts on the industry.
Daniel Fortas of Osage Creek said his company is going through a rebranding to emphasize its roots in the Ozarks. The company’s cultivation facility is located in Berryville and its dispensary is located in Eureka Springs. Osage Creek will be introducing new strains each month in addition to the ones people have come to enjoy and will have a collection of cannabis products associated with Arkansas golfing legend John Daly.
Tyler Nance of Natural State Medicinals described his company’s move into a new and larger facility in the past year. Nance said he wished patients wouldn’t simply shop for products by looking for the highest THC percentage. Most people don’t walk into a liquor store looking for the products with the highest alcohol content, he said.
Roxanne Dennant of Good Day Farm spoke passionately about the need for patients to advocate for legalization and for businesses in the industry to prioritize collaboration over competition.
Casey Flippo, owner of Dark Horse Medicinals, a processor in Little Rock, spoke about the national brands, like Smokiez Edibles and The Clear, that he has brought to the Arkansas market through licensing arrangements.
Flippo and Dennant, whose businesses each operate in Missouri as well as in Arkansas, both lamented recent regulatory changes that will make operating in Missouri more difficult.