For many of us, especially in the more urban parts of the state, it’s been easy to get quality marijuana for years, thanks to the (illegal) influx of relatively cheap cannabis grown in California, Colorado and an increasing number of other states. But for those wary of dipping into the black market, the advent of medical marijuana completely changed the game. Since the first dispensary opened in May 2019, Arkansans have spent $400 million on 60,000 pounds of medical cannabis. There are nearly 80,000 active marijuana patient cardholders.
But largely absent in media coverage, here and elsewhere, has been any exploration of what it’s like to smoke or otherwise consume marijuana in Arkansas. What’s good? What’s not? How does medical weed compare with black market pot? To attempt to answer those questions, we turned to a cross section of marijuana aficionados: a high-level industry participant, a dispensary owner, a former budtender, a prominent advocate, a patient, a longtime all-day-every-day smoker and a black market dealer. They offer an occasionally conflicting collage of Arkansas cannabis experience. Elsewhere in the issue, we explore how the price of Arkansas’s medical marijuana compares to other states (preview: It’s higher!), what goes into making cannabis-infused chocolates and Good Day Farm’s budding regional marijuana empire. And for those still stumbling around in the dark, we worked up an introductory glossary, Grandma’s Guide to Weed.
Below, marijuana insiders put it bluntly:
Owner of Green Springs Medical dispensary in Hot Springs
People come here who have been in California and Colorado, and they say the quality is really good. It’s just we needed more cultivators to get the price down. There’s a hierarchy. I think Natural State Medicinals is probably No. 1. Good Day Farm is No 2. Delta is probably three. No. 4 would be Osage. Bold hurries their product way too often to market. Their quality is probably at the bottom of the spectrum.
Bold never cured its product right. It always smelled like hay when we got it. If it smells like hay, that’s a big flashing red light that it’s not properly cured. That has really hurt their brand name. They came online first along with Natural State. Osage entered the market third. They were a little bit of a player. Then they were plagued with seeds in their product for about six months.
Natural State hasn’t really had any setbacks like the other two. They’ve been a more quality product. They’ve always tried to out-package the other cultivators. They have cleaner-cut buds with less shake. Delta came along and tried to do a super high-quality product and advertise it that way. It just never really materialized. There were one or two strains that people were semi-interested in, but I haven’t heard Delta’s name mentioned by anyone in the last quarter. Good Day Farm moved to Pine Bluff. They picked up a cultivator who used to work at Natural State. I think that’s why they have so many of the strains that are like Natural State. We’ve seen some really good product from them. I think the two main contenders are Natural State and Good Day Farm. The other three are probably going to take a year to get their level of quality and variety of products up.
A lot of times patients will come in and just ask for the strongest strain. That’s not always the smartest thing to do. It’s not really the strongest THC that does the best for you, it’s the particular strain that has the cannabinoids your body is looking for to help you. Cannabis affects everyone differently. You have to try a lot of strains to see which one of them works best for you. Natural State’s Commerce City Kush has month in and month out been the strongest strain. It’s pushing 30%. When patients say they want indica with strong THC, nine times out of 10 that’s what they get.
Sour Tangie from Natural State is another really popular one. It’s usually 21%. It isn’t the highest, but it’s really popular. Chiesel, also from Natural State, is another bestseller. Good Day Farm has mimicked a lot of the strains Natural State did and has Chiesel, too. It’s not as high in THC as Natural State, but it’s pretty close.
There’s no question, hands down, that medical is much stronger and a better quality than what you find on the black market. At Green Springs, we’ve always done $5 per gram deals [for shake]. That brings in a lot of people. When you start hitting the $5 market, that gets really close to what it is on the black market. When you get to the price that’s equal to black market, they’re going to come in to get the medical one every single day. Because they know what they’re getting. They know that it’s stronger. They know that it’s not laced with chemicals.
It’s like anything else, any other commodity: It’s a supply-and-demand thing. The more supply there is, the better pricing gets. Customers are getting more discerning. They’re becoming more interested in certain brands or strains. People are learning more. That’s a good thing. We’re moving along with the program.
By the end of the year, patients should be able to expect more of a variety. There are probably going to be 75 more strains on the horizon. Prices are going to be less once other cultivators get on board. I think we’re going to see more products, like concentrates. It takes a lot of dry herb to make concentrates. Once there’s an overabundance of the dry herb with the cultivators that they’re not going to be able to sell, they’re going to be able to do some neat stuff.
Industry participant in Arkansas and elsewhere
Osage probably has the best flower in Arkansas. I think their grower has a little better feel for what the outcome of that crop needs to be. There’s a million different ways to grow it. You just have to make a decision of how you’re going to manage that garden. Most follow the same recipe: They take a 3-gallon pot, fill it with salts and push it hard in the greenhouse or indoor facility. It becomes salt bud, which means it’s grown with too much fertilizer salt. Typically, it has too much chlorophyll and can kind of be harsh. For extraction it’s great because you’re going to get the maximum amount.
Osage is focusing a little more on soil instead of flushing with salts. I don’t think they’re doing a great job. But I think they’re doing a better job than others. I don’t think there is a good grower. I’m super disappointed in all of them here in Arkansas. They’ve all chosen to kind of take the easy way out and to follow a cookbook. They streamlined it, and they’ve got their costs down to bottom dollar.
In the cannabis world, we have to breed certain strains for certain illnesses, so that we don’t break the cannabinoid chain and don’t break the entourage effect. You’re focusing specifically on PTSD, or chronic pain or anti-inflammation. Weed isn’t all the same. You have to really do the research. A certain strain is going to be good for certain patients. I don’t think any Arkansas cultivator has actually done that. They pick up trendy strains and they grow them because they sell because they’re a trendy name.
It’s not about patients, it’s not about medicine at all, it’s about money. Money makes the world go round, and I get that. But we’re supposed to be focused on patients. There needs to be more organic grows. I think there needs to be more variety. I think there needs to be more cultivation competition to drive some prices down.
We have eight cultivators here in Arkansas and have four running. Over in Oklahoma there are 3,800 cultivators, which can grow unlimited amounts outdoors, in greenhouses and indoors.
Oklahoma is the Wild West. In Arkansas wholesale prices per pound are going for about $3,500 and retailing for $6,000 to $7,000. Retail prices for the same indoor bud in Oklahoma are $1,200 to $1,600.
I think the best of the best is in the Oklahoma City area. There are some growers there competing with the best growers in California and Colorado. I’m talking about big facilities that have millions upon millions invested and very large management groups who have big shoulders who can push. A lot of growers in Oklahoma really feel like it’s the center of the country and makes sense for distribution. As we move into deregulation and a recreational market that’s nationwide, there’s a big push to kind of get positioned properly on the front end.
But Oklahoma has a major problem. Just like California and to a lesser extent Colorado, Oklahoma sees a lot of growers illegally moving product out of the state into more restrictive states. Because it’s a race to the bottom for growers. The wholesale price for weed grown outdoors is expected to reach $500. Close to that point, it’s not worth your time. So growers say, screw it, I’ll take it somewhere else and make $2,000-$3,000.
I don’t see Arkansas going recreational in 2022. I think Missouri will go. I think Kansas is going to go medical. Oklahoma will go recreational. At some point the iceberg falls off the glacier and recreational will be everywhere.
In the 1930s, we banned cannabis and made it illegal. Everyone took these large agronomics and went underground in their basements. Over time we bred these short things, that are kind of prima donna, crappy little plants. But they produce really great buds in our basements, in our greenhouses, in our backyards covered up in the bushes — concealable plants. Now we’re taking these plants out of the basement and trying to grow them commercially again. The thing is, nobody has done a good job breeding. There haven’t been good geneticists involved in breeding cannabis. There’s starting to be. But there hasn’t been.
For example, let’s say you get 10 Blue Dream seeds. You crack all 10 of them. You’ve got 10 different phenotypes in them. Those are 10 completely different plants that genetically express differently. And you have to find one that’s really good. You may crack all these seeds and think, “Man, we got all this Blue Dream.” But you’re not getting the same phenotype that guys in California have had such success with. According to Arkansas law, cultivators have to start with a seed, not a clone. The genetics of that seed may not express the same way the best of that strain in other states has.
Former budtender in Little Rock
I quit because the dispensary where I worked was after the money and that’s all they were doing. They really didn’t care about it being a patient business. They were just pushing the highest percentage of THC.
I got into it to help people. I’ve studied terpenes and I’ve studied different strains. I kept getting told, “You’re spending too much time with the patient. We need to get them in and out.”
“Turn and burn” is what they kept saying. That frustrated me to the point that I didn’t want to do it anymore.
I got interested in cannabis after I got home from Iraq. The VA had me on so many prescription drugs for so many different things. I finally moved into marijuana and was able to move away from a lot of those drugs. I went black market then, and I’m still black market.
I got rid of my [medical marijuana] card once it expired. I didn’t re-up it. The person I go through is able to get it through different states that have it legalized. It’s so cheap there they can bring it here, and they’re making some money. It’s all labeled and has the test stickers. It’s not in a baggie or a jar. It’s legit stuff. They offer things that Arkansas doesn’t.
For instance, I buy bags of indica tea. It helps me sleep. Outside of Arkansas, they have cartridges that don’t gum up. There’s a wide variety of different gummies. A lot of them are fast-acting. When you eat it, you get effects in 10 or 15 minutes. With Arkansas gummies, buckle up. You never know when it’s going to hit you. I don’t like that. I like to ease into it. In other states you can get a soda pop or a lollipop or something that’s quick-acting. In Arkansas, Natural State’s chocolate is the only edible I’d recommend to anybody.
As for Arkansas bud, it’s all garbage. It’s dry. You find popcorn buds. They look like the kernel of a popcorn. You might find a big fat stem in there. That’s a third of your weight. So you’re really not getting enough flower. At the place where I worked, I got a 40% discount. I tried every one of the cultivators and every strain they offered. It was all consistently bad.
I still have friends who have cards. We’ll meet up for a game or a movie. They’ll bring their stuff, and I’ll bring mine. All the THC trichomes on the outside aren’t there in the Arkansas weed. That’s where a lot of the relief comes from. Arkansas cultivators are cutting too many corners and trying to make too much money without thinking about the patient side of it.
How can you tell what’s good? Trichomes on the outside. The smell of it. You don’t want it to be too moist or too dry. You know what Kinetic Sand is? When you grind up flower and grind it fine, it should act like Kinetic Sand where, if you squish it just a little bit, it should go back to its normal form. When you smoke it, you want to taste the bud and not the chemicals they use to fertilize it. You want an even burn. That kind of stuff is hard to get in Arkansas.
Arkansan consumers are just not that educated. When I was at the dispensary, eight out of 10 people, when they’d walk through the door, the first thing out of their mouth was, “Which one has the highest THC?”
I’d ask, “Do you want indica or sativa?”
“Indica will help you sleep, while sativa will help you get through the day.”
“Well, which one has the highest THC?”
They were all about the high. Other common questions: “How long does it take for the gummies to kick in or the edibles to kick in?” Then customers would come back after about a week and say, “Can I exchange this card, it’s all gummed up?” I had to tell them they weren’t allowed to bring it into the dispensary, much less get a refund or exchange.
My recommendation is, if you do get a card in Arkansas, apply to Oklahoma and get the temporary and drive over there and get the good stuff. They allow out-of-state vendors, so it’s like going to Colorado, California or Michigan. The good stuff usually comes with a sticker for authentication.
Artist who smokes all day, every day
I’m a real heavy smoker. It’s the first thing I do in the morning. I do it all day long before I go to sleep. Then I wake up and repeat. It’s good for my system, good for my day-to-day. I smoke it like it’s legal.
I probably didn’t start until I was maybe 17 or 18. I was straightedge for most of my youth. I was on some drug-free, punk rock, hardcore shit. I didn’t try marijuana ’til I was probably 17 or 18.
Back in the late ’90s there was some trash weed out. It wasn’t good. It was coming from Texas or smelled like gasoline or smelled like perfume. You could tell it had been in a gas tank. Back then it had a lot of seeds in it. It hadn’t really been cultivated. It would give you a little head change, but for the most part it wasn’t fire. You couldn’t pinpoint if it was an indica or sativa. Back then you didn’t really have names for strains, it was just weed.
Today, it’s a lot more accessible and people are more accepting of cannabis smokers. It’s a lot easier now than it was to buy weed. And you can go somewhere and smell like a whole pound of weed and no one is really going to blink an eye. Back in the day they might call the police on you.
It’s a lot pricier in the dispensaries than it is in the streets. I don’t have a card. I’d much rather keep my options open than being on someone’s radar as far as the government. Having an official card that says I can smoke pot is cool, but I can’t roll up and fire it up in the street because it’s still not recreational, so it’s kind of pointless to me.
But I’ve tried a lot of Arkansas medical weed. Natural State has a bunch of nice strains. They’re probably most consistent in terms of strains and the feel of the smoke, the high.
Most of the weed you buy on the street is coming from Colorado or California or another state that’s fully recreational. But it’s so common now. Homie could be living in Southwest Little Rock and growing some fire. You never know unless it’s packaged and says “processed in California” or wherever.
When I started smoking, an eighth would be $25 and a quarter would be $100. Somewhere within the last five to 10 years, the scaling system got lost in translation. Now a gram on the streets would be like $15 or $20. It’s been marked down for some reason. And you’ll find some people doing two grams for $15. I’m not really sure how these cats are making money. They’re doing really crazy deals. That’s like real hood deals. An ounce back in the day would be $270. Now it’s $160. I don’t know how their conversion chart works [laughs]. It didn’t used to be like that back in the day, this shit was expensive.
I have neck and back issues from working in restaurants my whole life. My spine and back are messed up. If I can get some strong weed that’s more of an indica, that will lay me down and relax my muscles and bones. But my main bag is sativa. I like smoking weed and getting hype — clean my house and pay my bills. It locks me in. I get more meticulous and kind of OCD when I’m smoking and painting. I see a vision and I want it to be perfect, so I keep smoking and chiseling away at my piece until it’s perfect.
I don’t take any pills. I’ve never taken a pill to get fucked up.
I’ve smoked thousands and thousands of strains over the years. I usually try to pick up something I’ve never heard of, just to switch it up. But I’m not a snob. If it’s green, and it breaks up, I’m going to smoke it. I’m not hating on any particular strains. But I know when weed is off. If it’s under-cured, it’s not going to be dense. The buds are going to be loose. It’s going to be flaky. Sometimes you might get a pack of bud that’s really thick and smells like cat piss. It might be fire, but it’s really not good for your lungs. If the ash burns black, you know it’s got chemicals all in it. With pure weed that’s cured perfect, your ash is going to burn white.
I’ll mess with anything — THC edibles, brownies, dabs, blunts. But for the most part, I smoke j’s. I just like the taste of the weed. I’m a professional joint roller. I roll by hand. You put the weed down, and I can roll it in 45 seconds.
Your average drug dealer on the streets, he gets a pound and it says OG Kush on the package, he might split that pound up and call it something else. Half the time on the streets, these dudes don’t know the name of the weed they’re selling.
“What is this?”
“I don’t know.”
“You should know if it’s hybrid or sativa or indica. Am I going to smoke this and fall asleep or smoke it and be awake?”
There will be dry points when no one has weed. If it gets dry like that, if one of my guys doesn’t have it, I’ve got six or seven more I can hit up. Sometimes, I’ll hit up six people and nobody has any. Let me try again tomorrow. And sure enough someone pops up with some.
Longtime medical marijuana advocate and the treasurer for the Arkansas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
If you buy Natural State Medicinals, you’re going to get a new product. I’m very hopeful for River Valley and the Carpenters [two cultivators scheduled to begin producing marijuana this year]. Osage and Bold, not so much. They’re going to have to step their game up. For a while there were only three of them out there. Now the competition is coming in. I haven’t gotten a chance to try Good Day, but I’ve heard rave reviews.
I’ve never grown it. I don’t care how they do it. If it smells great, feels great and tastes great, I’m not having to trim the leaves and it’s not filled with seeds and stems, I’m happy. I want to know it’s safe and not full of pesticides or been in a gas tank brought across the border. I want to know potency, so I know how much to take.
Before long we’re going to have enough product so the dispensaries will have no choice but to lower the prices. When there were three cultivators supplying 80,000 patients, they could charge whatever they wanted and they didn’t care whether the quality was any good because they were the only game in town. Once all eight of the cultivators are up and running, I don’t think the dispensaries are going to have a choice. Some — not all — of the dispensaries have made the commitment that as soon as wholesale prices come down, their prices will come down. Even though there’s only 40 dispensaries, if you have three or four dispensaries dropping their prices drastically, where is everyone going to go? Would it be worth it to drive an extra 20 miles to save an extra $200?
Still, until we get adult use [recreational], it’s never going to come down to where we need it to be.
Medical marijuana cardholder
I got my card because I got tired of being paranoid all the time. I have some mental health issues — anxiety and depression and PTSD. My house burned down, and I went back in and tried to save things. Don’t ever do that. That’s how I got my card because that gave me PTSD.
I also didn’t want to get arrested. I have two kids. Going to meet Steve at 11:30 at Kroger on Kavanaugh? Come on man, I’m tired of doing that.
I haven’t really found any trash. When you’re getting this medical grade, I mean, I’m 48 and I’ve been smoking for a long time. When I’m at a dispensary, and I hear somebody say, “That’s really no good,” I don’t buy it. You never got a big brick that had seeds and stems all attached to it. You don’t know what bad weed is.
Chiesel is my favorite strain. I also really like Green Crack. It’s really uplifting. It’s a sativa. Chiesel is a hybrid. It’s kind of uplifting also, but it also keeps the depression away. I like the vape carts, too. But they kind of hit you kind of hard. I found that out the hard way. I took a couple of hits on a vape cart and thought I was going to go somewhere and that didn’t work.
The Chiesel I get is usually about 23%. The THC levels in the pens can be as high as 92%. Take one or two hits and you set it down for a couple hours. It’s really medicine. It’s not one of those that you can pass around like a joint. If it’s an indica, you’re going to go to sleep most likely. If you don’t, you need to get off whatever stimulants you’re on.
Another thing about getting it from a dispensary: You know where it comes from. I don’t know where Steve got it from. He tells me it’s this, and it may not be that at all. Even if you’re paying for top-notch bud. “This came from Eureka, California, and it’s Blue Dream.” You don’t know what the hell that is. Unless you’re really, really that good at discerning what it is.
I had to lower my prices once medical marijuana became legal in Arkansas. However, my prices are still cheaper and there is no limit to the amount you can purchase like with the MMJ card. I pay $2,600 per pound for supreme quality and $1,600 per pound for regular. I sell an ounce for $250 and quarters for $80. I get product from Southern California, Denver and Michigan. The product from California and Colorado is overflow from growers to dispensaries. The product from Michigan is from a private legal grower. My shit is always fresh. I get shipments every two weeks.
I’m not sure what I’ll do once weed becomes fully legal. I might only do this for a couple of more years. But there will always be a black market.