Medical Cannabis sales set to surpass last year’s record of $270M
But the state is conservative even by Republican standards.
The people of Arkansas spent $23.2 million on medical cannabis in July, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. According to the Department of Finance and Administration, such recent spending is set to surpass the state’s record sales from last year. Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Department of Finance, said July’s sales numbers demonstrate that Arkansas will exceed 2022’s record medical marijuana sales, which reached $270 million.
Arkansas medical marijuana patients spent $164.6 million on cannabis from January to July of 2023, which marks a $7.3 million increase from the first seven months of 2022. That figure accounts for a whopping 5,157 pounds of bud, bringing the year’s total to 34,214.
“If sales remain consistent for the next several months, we will complete 2023 with total sales reaching more than $280 million,” Hardin shared in a news release. “The state collected $2.5 million in tax revenue from medical marijuana in July. This brings total medical marijuana tax revenue in 2023 to $18.5 million, and $108 million since the first dispensary opened in May 2019.”
July came in fifth in 2023 for sales compared with other months, showing that even an impressive $23.2 million isn’t the biggest figure Arkansas can brag about. The highest-earning month of the year is March, which raked in $25 million worth of sales. The state’s lowest earning month of the year still comes in at $22.4 million, Hardin shares.
However, while sales are up, the tax revenue generated does not necessarily reflect sale numbers. For example, the $18.5 million in tax revenue the state has collected from medical marijuana sales through July 2023 is slightly down from 2022’s figures around this year, which clocked in at $18.7 million.
The highest-earning dispensaries that sold the most medical marijuana were Suite 443 of Hot Springs, selling 551.7 pounds in July, and Natural Relief Dispensary in Sherwood, which sold 462.1 pounds.
Arkansas voters legalized medical marijuana through a constitutional amendment in 2016. The state saw its first dispensaries open shop in 2019. Since then, as these figures reflect, there’s been a gradual and continual increase in the number of medical patients. The current figure clocks in at 94,059, according to the latest numbers from the Department of Health. This number is up from the 88,893 registered cardholders in 2022.
Despite such gains in medical sales, in Arkansas, the state has yet to embrace recreational marijuana. Back in November of 2022, voters rejected Issue 4, a measure that would have legalized adult-use cannabis, to the dismay of Arkansas cannabis advocates who worked so hard to push the bill through.
Those pushing the failed measure were led by Responsible Growth Arkansas, an advocacy group concerned with reforming drug law, prison sentencing, and healthcare research. The bill would have amended the constitution to authorize the possession, personal use, and consumption of cannabis by adults 21 and over, as well as legalizing the cultivation and sale of cannabis by licensed commercial facilities.
However, the measure did face criticism. Some complained that it didn’t include expungement provisions or allow for home growing. There were also questions about the method of implementation. As a constitutional amendment, it would take a lot of work to make those changes further down the line. As a result, even die-hard pro-cannabis reformers weren’t over the moon excited about Issue 4.
And Arkansas is a conservative state, making any change towards cannabis reform trickier, even in a time where some conservatives show bi-partisan support for cannabis and psychedelic legalization. State officials, such as Arkansas’ secretary of state, challenged the measure’s validity.
While those in support submitted more than the number of signatures required for the proposal to qualify for the ballot, the state Board of Election commissioners still rejected the measure, arguing that the ballot title didn’t adequately explain what the measure meant to voters.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson even held a joint press briefing on October 31, 2022, at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce in Little Rock to speak out against Issue 4. “This puts us at a disadvantage in [the] recruiting industry if Issue 4 passes,” Hutchinson said, citing how workplace drug testing would be affected.
So, for now, Arkansas only has (quite profitable) medical cannabis under Amendment 98. Hutchinson’s concern regarding workplace drug testing comes at a time when changes regarding drug testing are sweeping the nation.
For instance, The Michigan Civil Service Commission recently passed a change that would end drug screenings for cannabis for applicants for many state jobs. This rule would overturn previous state policy that automatically disqualified applicants to state positions that tested positive for cannabis (although applicants to some jobs will still be required to pass a marijuana screening before hiring).
Additionally, as noted regarding bipartisan support in the country, despite what the Republicans in Arkansas believe, Matt Gaetz of Florida recently proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would cease cannabis testing for military members.