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story.lead_photo.caption The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen COMING SOON: The Compassionate Care Clinic is expected to open at Marion Anderson Plaza in the coming weeks. Its staff of four doctors will determine if patients have a condition that qualifies them for a medical marijuana card issued by the state.

Four local doctors say they plan to open a clinic that will certify qualifying conditions needed to apply for a medical marijuana card.

Drs. Randy Hill, Kyle Roper, David Slay and Greg Whorton will staff the Compassionate Care Clinic at Marion Anderson Plaza, 173 Marion Anderson Road, Hill said Wednesday, explaining that the clinic is not affiliated with their CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs primary care practices.

He said they hope to open the clinic in the next few weeks.

Rules promulgated by the Arkansas Department of Health and enabled by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016 require applicants to submit a doctor's written certification when applying for a registry identification card.

The Health Department said Wednesday it has approved 2,697 applications as of last week, with another 191 in the processing phase. A breakdown of applicants by county was unavailable. There's a $50 application fee, and the cards expire one year after they are issued.

The certification confirms the applicant has a qualifying condition, which, according to Health Department rules, include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, ALS, Tourette Syndrome, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, severe arthritis, fibromyalgia, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, other chronic or debilitating diseases and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement reported earlier this year that 25,537 Garland County residents, or more than one-quarter of the county's population, have a qualifying condition.

Hill said county residents expressed support for medical marijuana at the polls last year, approving the enabling amendment to the state constitution by a 21,366-to-18,861 margin. Having a means of certification available in the county lends agency to that popular will, Hill said.

"Patients in the community voted it in," he said. "We don't want patients to have to travel 100 miles to get their (applications) filled out. A lot of these are our own patients, and we want to make sure we're attending to their needs."

Hill said medical marijuana has a palliative benefit for hospice patients, whom he treats as medical director for Hospice Home Care.

"They're the impetus behind me doing this," he said. "They're dying and suffering, and I'd like to be able to offer something that eliminates that pain and suffering."

Hill said medical marijuana can be a less expensive alternative to Marinol, a synthetic form of marijuana. The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug that has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value, but the Food and Drug Administration has approved Marinol for treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and anorexia from AIDS and cancer.

Hill said curbing opioid addiction in the county is another rationale for the clinic, enabling an alternative to opioid-based pain relievers that have been linked to prescription drug and heroin abuse.

Rigor will be applied to the certification process, Hill said, with patients having to provide documentation of a qualifying condition before the clinic will attest to that condition.

"They'll have to have documentation, and we're going to have to review it," he said. "There's a process involved, and it's not an easy process. You have to have medical records from a physician that shows you have a condition. We'll have to agree the patient has that condition. It's not going to be a rubber stamp operation at all."

The state's Medical Marijuana Commission will meet today to discuss a timeline for licensing cultivation facilities and dispensaries. The state Department of Finance and Administration said the commission hopes to begin scoring the 95 cultivation and 227 dispensary applications by Dec. 15.

"DFA's legal team is in the process of 'depersonalizing' each application," Scott Hardin, DFA's communications director, said. "Applications will have the names of the individuals removed, so the scoring is based totally on the merit of the application, not the individuals behind it."

The commission will award five cultivation licenses and 32 for dispensaries. The latter will be allocated across eight geographic zones, with no more than four licenses awarded to one zone. Garland County is in Zone 6 with Polk, Scott, Montgomery, Hot Spring, Perry, Saline and Grant counties.

Local on 12/01/2017

Print Headline: Local doctors plan to open cannabis clinic

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