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Medical marijuana sales kick off in Arkansas

FILE - In this June 17, 2015, file photo, marijuana plants grow at LifeLine Labs in Cottage Grove, M
Arkansas voters approved a measure legalizing medical marijuana for certain conditions in 2016.
(Jim Mone / Associated Press)

Two and a half years after Arkansans voted to legalize medical marijuana, qualifying patients began making purchases Saturday.

Doctor’s Orders RX in Hot Springs was the first dispensary to be officially licensed by the state and currently the only one operating. It sold marijuana to a patient Friday to test its software, before the official opening Saturday morning.

Voters approved a measure legalizing medical marijuana for certain conditions in 2016. The product currently available is from one of the state’s five licensed cultivators, the only one that has harvested the plant. Two other cultivators have begun growing and expect to harvest by summer.

Dr. Rhonda Henry-Tillman, who chairs the state’s Medical Marijuana Commission, said in a statement Friday that the panel was pleased dispensaries were opening and “glad that patients will be able to access the appropriate cannabis product and possible relief they have patiently been awaiting.”

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By 8 a.m., when patients expected Doctor’s Orders RX to open, around 100 people stood in a line that wrapped around the building and into an adjacent field. Despite the early hour and rain, dozens turned out, bringing folding chairs, umbrellas and ponchos, and used crossword puzzles, books and cellphones to pass the time. Some had been waiting since before dawn.

Eventually, employees allowed in, one at a time, patients who had been at the dispensary Friday and had been registered in the system. Those who’d camped out since before sunrise expressed frustration.

At about 9:20 a.m., people cheered as an employee let in Gerard Wimer, a 38-year-old construction worker from Jacksonville who takes hydrocodone for back pain and arthritis and who was first in line.

After he saw on the news Friday night that the dispensary was opening, he drove down with a tent to camp out, though he ended up sleeping in his truck. Behind him stood his retired mother, 67-year-old Gena Hunter, whose spot he saved.

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After about 10 minutes, Wimer left carrying a paper bag that contained half an ounce of medical marijuana, which cost $220, he said.

Hunter, who followed her son out, said the employees were courteous and helped her choose strains good for her neuropathy and arthritis. She got a quarter of an ounce each of “Blue Dream” and “Cookies and Chem.”

“I have no idea what that means,” she said.

Wimer said that his experience was “pretty easy,” but that he would try Green Springs Medical next time, when he hopes prices come down. Still, he was glad he came.

“It means maybe I won’t have to be taking pain pills,” Wimer said. “I’m excited. I’m very excited.”


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