Marijuana is legal in Arkansas for medical purposes, but recreational use is prohibited. In 2016, Arkansas voters approved an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution to permit the use of marijuana to treat specific medical conditions. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (Issue 6) was approved by 53% of the ballot.
The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment permits persons suffering from certain qualifying medical conditions, with doctors' recommendations, to possess and use up to 2.5 ounces (71 grams) of marijuana. Such persons must register in the Arkansas medical marijuana program before purchasing medical marijuana from dispensaries. Registered patients may only purchase 2.5 ounces of marijuana within a 14-day period from the state’s licensed dispensaries. Medical marijuana patients visiting Arkansas from other states may also apply for Arkansas medical marijuana cards (90-day validity), provided they suffer from the program’s eligible medical conditions. The Arkansas Department of Health manages the medical marijuana registry for patients and caregivers.
Issue 6 permits the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) to license up to 40 medical marijuana dispensaries and a maximum of 8 marijuana cultivation facilities. However, the Amendment prohibits the home cultivation of marijuana by registered patients. Sales of medical marijuana in the state started in May 2019 when licensed cannabis dispensaries began operations.
The legalization of medical marijuana has affected the economy of Arkansas positively. An annual medical marijuana report is jointly prepared and presented by the Arkansas Department of Health and the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA). The report for the Fiscal year 2021 (July 2020 - June 2021) shows there are 38 licensed dispensaries, with 36 operational and eight licensed cultivation facilities, with five in operation. The medical marijuana program in the state is serviced by 798 dispensary agents and 486 cultivation facility agents. Hence, over 1,000 persons have been directly employed due to the legalization of medical marijuana in Arkansas.
Furthermore, a Yahoo news report in October 2020 revealed that Arkansas generated $2.9 million from sales tax on medical marijuana in 2019, the year marijuana dispensaries began operations. In 2020 and 2021, $21.2 million and $33.1 million were generated from medical marijuana sales tax, respectively. In addition, the medical marijuana sales tax in the first 9 months of 2022 was $23.9 million. Hence, medical marijuana has added at least $81 million to the state's revenue between 2019 and September 2022. Of the total, $62 million was allocated to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences towards obtaining a National Cancer Institute designation.
The Arkansas Economic Development Institute released a study report on the potential economic impact of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Arkansas. A recreational marijuana advocacy group, Responsible Growth Arkansas, commissioned the study. The report estimated that legalizing recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 years and older would create over 6,000 jobs and generate $2.36 billion in revenue for the state in 5 years.
Medical marijuana was legalized in 2016 following Arkansas voters’ adoption of Issue 6. The crime data submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by law enforcement agencies in the state showed 6,407 marijuana possession arrests and 680 marijuana sales arrests in 2015. In 2016, there were 7,807 marijuana possession arrests and 926 marijuana sales arrests. In 2020, after marijuana dispensaries began operations, marijuana possession arrests decreased to 5,033, and marijuana sales arrests also declined to 513. In 2021, marijuana possession arrests further declined to 4,940, and there were 547 marijuana sales arrests, a slight increase from the previous year.
After the legalization of medical marijuana in Arkansas, the number of marijuana-related offenses consistently declined compared to other drug-related offenses. In 2015, there were 7,087 marijuana-related arrests out of 12,900 drug-related arrests representing 55% of the total. In 2016, marijuana-related arrests were 54% (8,733) of 16,027 drug-related arrests. The proportion reduced further in 2020, with marijuana-related arrests being 36% (5,546) of 15,294 drug-related arrests. In 2021, marijuana-related arrests represented 34% (5,487) of 16,487 drug-related arrests. Although the drug-related crime rate has increased in Arkansas since the state legalized medical cannabis, the marijuana crime rate has continuously declined.
The Arkansas Department of Health issues Arkansas medical marijuana registry cards. The registry card permits a cardholder to purchase and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. It is issued to patients certified by physicians to be suffering from at least one qualifying medical condition listed in the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment and their caregivers. Medical marijuana qualifying medical conditions in Arkansas include:
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Persistent muscle spasm
An adult applicant with a qualifying medical condition must visit a physician (a doctor of medicine or osteopathy) with whom they have a physician-patient relationship to obtain an official, written physician certification. A minor patient cannot apply directly for the medical marijuana card; their parent or legal guardian must serve as their caregiver and apply on their behalf. Applicants must provide the following:
Applicants can apply online or via mail by sending their applications to:
Medical Marijuana Office
4815 W. Markham Street, Slot 50
Little Rock, AR 72205
Phone: (833) 214-8619
Marijuana was freely cultivated and used in Arkansas until 1923 when the state prohibited its possession and usage. In 2004, it was classified as a Schedule VI Controlled Substance under the Arkansas Uniform Controlled Substances Act. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act was placed on the ballot as Issue 5 during the 2012 general elections. The Act sought to allow non-profit organizations to cultivate and sell medical marijuana to eligible patients. It also aimed to permit patients living more than five miles from registered dispensaries to grow marijuana in their homes. However, Arkansas voters rejected the Act by a vote of 51.4% to 48.3%.
In 2016, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment was placed on the ballot as Issue 6. Issue 6 was proposed to amend the Arkansas Constitution to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and was approved by 53% of the state’s voters. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment allows registered patients with doctors' certifications to possess up to 2.5 ounces (71 grams) of marijuana for the treatment of eligible medical conditions. It also permits between four and eight licensed cannabis cultivation facilities and between 20 and 40 licensed marijuana dispensaries in the state. However, the Amendment did not make provision for the home cultivation of marijuana.
The legal sales of medical marijuana in Arkansas began in 2019. Registered patients above 18 years may purchase marijuana from the dispensaries directly, but patients who are minors are not permitted to buy or possess marijuana. Parents or legal guardians of minor patients must serve as their caregivers and purchase medical marijuana on their behalf.
In September 2022, the Arkansas Supreme Court overruled the decision of the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners to block the Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Issue 4) from appearing in the November 2022 ballot. Hence, Arkansas voters will decide on the Marijuana Legalization Initiative in the November 2022 elections. The Marijuana Legalization Initiative is a recreational marijuana law that, if approved, will allow adults aged 21 years and older to possess up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of marijuana but prohibits the home cultivation of marijuana. It will allow the sale of marijuana at licensed dispensaries to adults for recreational purposes. It provides for the imposition of a 10% tax on recreational marijuana sales, besides other existing local and state sales taxes. Issue 4 also proposes the division of the revenue generated from the recreational marijuana sales tax among the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, law enforcement the, court-mandated drug program, and the state general fund.
Cultivation of marijuana in the United States, the early 17th century.