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story.lead_photo.caption The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen OPEN FOR BUSINESS: About 70 people were in line outside Green Springs Medical on Seneca Street when it opened shortly after 8 a.m. on Monday, May 13, 2019. The medical marijuana dispensary was the first to open within the city limits of Hot Springs. - Photo by Richard Rasmussen

Arkansas' first two medical marijuana retailers sold more than 13 pounds of the drug during the first weekend of sales, according to data reported to state regulators.

As of 1 p.m. Monday, the two Hot Springs dispensaries -- Green Springs Medical and Doctor's Orders RX -- had sold 13.76 pounds of dried cannabis flower, according to figures reported to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.

Both companies have publicized prices of $15 per gram, meaning the first three days of sales exceeded $93,000.

Doctor's Order made the first sale in Arkansas on Friday afternoon; Green Springs Medical made its first sale on Sunday. The average transaction amount was $79.62, according to the Finance Department data. Green Springs Medical had said it would sell the drug at $395 an ounce, but also limited the amount sold to no more than a half-ounce. It sold those quantities at $15 per gram.

Because of limitations of software, the state doesn't know how many patients made purchases, said Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the finance department.

About 200 people waited in line at Doctor's Orders RX on Saturday morning, the first full day of sales, and lines -- though much shorter -- continued on Sunday and Monday at both dispensaries, patients and spokesmen for the companies said.

Jacqueline Petty, 43, of Harrison made the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Hot Springs on Sunday to visit Green Springs Medical, where she said the line moved efficiently.

"They were all so nice," she said. "They gave us water and helped pick which strain would help us the most. I was very impressed."

Friday marked the official debut of Arkansas medical marijuana program, the 33rd in the U.S. It came two and a half years after Arkansans voted to legalize the drug, approving Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution in 2016.

Patients or their registered caregivers can buy medical marijuana if a doctor has certified that the patients suffer from one of 18 qualifying conditions. As of Friday, the Arkansas Department of Health had issued 11,739 medical marijuana registry ID cards.

Regulatory snags and court challenges delayed cultivation businesses getting off the ground and the opening of the first dispensary. Once mature, Arkansas' medical cannabis market will include 32 dispensaries across the state and five cultivation facilities.

Currently, only the two Garland County dispensaries have passed the Alcoholic Beverage Control's final inspection, which permits a retailer to open for business. Hardin said Monday that no other dispensaries had requested final inspections.

Doctor's Orders in its application for a dispensary license estimated that it's business startup costs would exceed $1.2 million. Green Springs Medical estimated it's startup costs -- including the first 90 days of operations -- to be about $185,000.

Bold Team of Cotton Plant is the only licensed cultivator in the state to have harvested and process cannabis. Natural State Medicinals Cultivation of White Hall and Osage Creek Cultivation of Berryville are expected to harvest in the coming weeks. The final two growers -- Delta Medical Cannabis Co. and Natural State Wellness Enterprises both of Newport -- are still building out their growing facilities.

The price of the drug is higher here than in other states where it's been legalized for longer. In Oklahoma and Arizona, for example, it can be purchased for about $10 per gram.

Arkansas police said the drug can be purchased illegally off the street for $4 per gram or less, but they noted that there's no guarantee that marijuana off the black market has been tested for quality and harmful chemicals like products regulated by the state.

Medical marijuana markets in other states watched prices drop once supply of the drug started to match demand.

Heather Outler, 26, of Royal said she purchased two grams of cannabis from Green Springs Medical on Monday because she lives on a fixed income. After tax, she said each gram was about $17. In addition to sales tax, the state imposes a 4 percent privilege tax on medical marijuana.

Outler said that dispensary officials told her that they expect the per gram price to drop to around $10 after more harvests and cultivators enter the market.

Outler, who uses cannabis to treat fibromyalgia and post-traumatic stress disorder, said that two grams of the drug would only last her a day or two.

"They don't have any options for low-income people," she said, noting that dispensaries are bound by the price cultivators charge.

Petty, who has several autoimmune diseases and anxiety, purchased a half ounce of cannabis from Green Springs on Sunday for about $213 before tax, she said. She recently quit using opioids to treat her pain, which she said drastically improved her quality of life.

She smoked the first portion of medical cannabis on Sunday night.

"Last night was the best night of sleep I've had in six months," she said on Monday.

Through the first three days of sales, the state-mandated "seed-to-sale" tracking software was greatest source of delays at the two dispensaries. The tracking software allows state watchdogs to ensure that no patient purchases more than 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana every two weeks, as required by state law.

Hardin said some of the software issues have been caused by mix-ups with patients' registry ID cards. The state Health Department initially began issuing the cards, which expire after one year unless otherwise specified, in February. But since the first dispensary didn't open until Friday, the agency decided to issue new cards so that patients could use them for the entire term they were intended.

Hardin said the software didn't recognize the original registry cards if patients had been issued a subsequent ID by the Health Department.

Local on 05/14/2019

Print Headline: Medical marijuana retailers sell more than 13 pounds in two days

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