Medical marijuana policies in Arkansas hospitals remain hazy

Local News

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Natural State’s medical marijuana business is budding with more than 50 pounds of the product sold since it hit the market a week ago.

Officials expect that number to only grow as edibles become available later this week at the two dispensaries in Hot Springs.

According to the Arkansas Department of Health, more than 12,000 patients have been approved to purchase the product with an ID card, but in the case of an emergency room visit, they may not be able to take it inside.

“It’s one of those situations, where just like with banking, the hospitals are concerned because they have DEA permits,” said John Vinson, the chief operating officer of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association. “They’re not enforcing that law, but it’s still on the books and they theoretically could at any time so there’s a lot of hesitation and nervousness about that from the unknown.” 

However, Vinson does know that hospital pharmacists are having the conversation.

“I’ve anecdotally heard that they’re not going to endorse it or allow it, or they’re struggling to figure out how they can and remain in compliance with the DEA,” he said.

KARK spoke with pharmacists at hospitals across Arkansas who confirmed the confusion. Right now, they are still in the preliminary stages of developing policies and speaking with other states. 

A pharmacist’s role in the medical marijuana business that’s more clear is one required under a 2017 state law. At least one pharmacist has to be involved at each of the 32 dispensaries as a consultant for policies and procedures for staff and strain and drug interaction information for patients.

“There is some evidence with certain seizure medications that there might be a drug interaction, for example,” Vinson said. 

The pharmacist world remains at odds with the product in general. While Vinson said a dispensary is not a pharmacy, marijuana could be considered medicine.

“It’s controversial, but I would definitely consider it alternative treatment for some patients,” he said.

Within the next month, state officials expect a dispensary in the capital city and in the northwest and northeast parts of the state to open their doors. A second cultivation facility, Natural State Medicinals, should have its first harvest within the next few weeks, while Osage Creek is on track for mid-summer.

More Arkansans could also get in the medical marijuana business soon as processors and transporters. Cultivators can decide whether to hire these third parties.

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