River Valley Relief Cultivation is the latest medical marijuana grower to deliver cannabis to Arkansas dispensaries. The Fort Smith-based cultivator has supplied some dozen strains to about a dozen dispensaries over the last week, owner Storm Nolan said. It’ll be everywhere soon, he said. “We’re slowly getting it rolled out to everybody.”
Voters approved the medical marijuana law in 2016, but the rollout has been slowed by bureaucratic and legal issues. The Medical Marijuana Commission initially licensed five growers in late 2018, and the first medical marijuana was sold in May 2019. In the summer of 2020, the commission awarded an additional three cultivation licenses, including to River Valley Relief. It’s the first among that batch to market.
Nolan said the design and permitting process took seven months after River Valley Relief got approval, but he still managed to begin operation just a little over a year after his company received the license. The company retrofitted a 100,000-square-feet warehouse. In what he calls Phase 1, it’s using 25,000-square-feet for its operations. Whether and how quickly it scales up will depend on what the market demands, Nolan said.
He has about 50 employees. “It was surprising and gratifying that we were able to bring so many jobs to Fort Smith so quickly,” Nolan said.
Marijuana cardholders have frequently complained about consistency problems in the market. How does River Valley plan to maintain quality control? Nolan, a co-owner of CSK Hotels, which has owned and managed some 15 projects across the South, said just like in the hotel business, there’s no secret. “It’s just to attention to detail. The whole team has pledged that we’re not rushing anything out. We’re not sending out anything we’re not proud of.”
Nolan promises to add more strains that are new to the Arkansas cannabis market in the coming weeks and months along with concentrates and gummies. For the latter, he’s partnered with Wana, the country’s top marijuana gummy maker.
Nolan said River Valley is selecting strains based on their terpene profile. The company includes the top three terpenes in each strain on its packaging, something Nolan says sets it apart from its competitors. “It’s often the terpenes and entourage effect, which make a big difference in the experience,” he said.
Many in the industry have reported that customers largely gravitate to the strains with the highest THC.
“As markets mature and as people’s experience and education with cannabis matures, you see people’s inclination to go to the highest THC wane,” Nolan said. “I think a lot of people gravitate to the highest THC because it’s the easiest for them to quantify.”
Carrie Sublett, brand champion for River Valley, offered up this comparison: “You don’t walk into the liquor store and say, “What’s the cheapest, highest alcohol percentage you’ve got?”