Arkansas Lawmakers introduce Bill to decriminalize marijuana

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State lawmakers in Arkansas introduced a bill on Monday that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the measure, House Bill 1972, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana would be considered a violation instead of crime and would be subject to a fine of not more than $200. Currently, possession of less than an ounce of cannabis is a Class A misdemeanor in Arkansas. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Charles Blake and Sen. Joyce Elliot and co-sponsored by Rep. Vivian Flowers, all Democrats.

The bill does not change the law for possession of larger amounts of marijuana. Under current statute, possession of one to four ounces of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor, although with four or more prior convictions possession of that amount can be charged as a Class D felony. Possessing four ounces to 10 pounds of marijuana is a Class D felony and 10 to 25 pounds of weed is a Class C felony. Possession of 25 fo 100 pounds of marijuana is a Class B felony and possessing more than 100 pounds of pot is a Class A felony. Under HB 1972, possession of less than one ounce would not qualify as a previous marijuana conviction.

HB 1972 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Medical Marijuana Coming to Arkansas This Month

Although Arkansas voters approved an amendment legalizing medical marijuana in November 2016, patients still do not have legal access to cannabis in the state. Licenses have been issued to growers and cultivation has already begun and 32 dispensaries received licenses in February, with some expecting to open later this month.

Alex Gray, an attorney for the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association, told local media two weeks ago that he expects fewer than 10 dispensaries to open in April.

“I anticipate it will be possible for patients to obtain their medicine by mid-April,” Gray said. “However, there is no guarantee that it will be convenient. You could have certain zones where there are no dispensaries up and running.”

Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration, said in an email in March that only a fraction of the 32 licensed dispensaries will be opening soon.

“We are in contact with several dispensaries,” Hardin said. “Based on these conversations, we anticipate a limited number of dispensaries (less than five) will be inspected in April. If the companies pass inspection, they may then open their doors for business. We aren’t necessarily confident the product will be available for purchase next month. Based on the information currently available to us, April remains our best estimate. The industry should really flourish as we enter late spring and summer.”

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