In 2016, Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical use of marijuana.
Now, more than three years after that vote, there is still no medical marijuana available.
But when it does happen, it is expected to be a boost to the revenue of Pine Bluff and Jefferson County, a local economic official said Tuesday.
Speaking to the Rotary Club of Pine Bluff, Caleb McMahon, who is the director of Economic Development for the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, said the cultivation facility that’s under construction on Gravel Pit Road is expected to generate $2 million per month in revenue, while the owners of one of the two dispensaries to be located in Pine Bluff said their profits are also expected to be around $2 million a month.
McMahon said the cultivation facility is expected to employ 40-to-60 people, while 10-to-20, or perhaps as many as 30, will work at the dispensaries.
Asked about potential salaries, he said there will be different skill sets required for the various jobs so the pay could run from about $15 an hour for a worker whose responsibility is to clip buds off plants to management positions that will require Phd’s in areas such as bio-chemistry.
Not only will medical marijuana produce very high paying jobs, McMahon said the facilities will increase the tax base, as electric bills alone will average $40,000 a month.
McMahon also discussed what has happened since 2016 when voters approved the measure.
“It was not handled great,” he said. “It was something we (the state) had never done before.”
Under the existing state laws regulating medical marijuana, five cultivation facilities are authorized, and McMahon said the State of Oklahoma, which has also authorized medical marijuana, has issued 1,400 licenses for cultivation.
“That means the Arkansas facilities are going to be much larger,” he said.
While facilities in Oklahoma might have 100-to-175 plants, the five Arkansas facilities are expected to grow 40-to-60,000 plants at a time.
The demand to find property to locate those cultivation facilities, as well as the dispensaries that will actually sell the product has been high, McMahon said.
In 2017, after the law passed, he said the Alliance was contacted by 44 different prospects looking for land or buildings in Jefferson County. That compares to 20 to 2 prospects in an average year.
McMahon said the state has built a lot of regulations into the process, such as a cultivation facility has to be at least 3,000 feet from a church, school or the like, while dispensaries have to be at least 1,500 feet away from churches, schools, etc.
Jefferson County was originally slated to get two cultivation facilities, but the owners of one of them decided to locate in Newport instead.
The remaining cultivation facility is located on Gravel Pit Road, and McMahon said the owners have said they expect to be the first in the state to have product available by early April.
Regarding the dispensaries, McMahon said Pine Bluff will have two of the 17 authorized by the state, one of the few cities to have more than one authorized.
Of the two, he said one of them has signed a contract to acquire land near the proposed casino, while he is not sure where the other will be located.
McMahon also predicted that the current number of dispensaries, which is set at 17, will be expanded, and there is a bill currently in the legislature to increase that number to 57.
Since there is still no marijuana for medical needs, Arkansas residents with a valid medical marijuana card are being allowed to go to Oklahoma, purchase marijuana there, and bring in back to the state.
“A lot of states that have medical marijuana laws let people transport marijuana to other states if they have similar laws,” he said.