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What happens if recreational marijuana is legalized?

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BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Recreational marijuana is set to be voted on in the November general election, and a local dispensary said it expects to see big gains if it becomes legal for sale.

Kyle Campbell, the manager at The ReLeaf Center in Bentonville, said the dispensary was one of the first to open in 2019. The business has continuously seen more people, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People at home were more worrisome with high levels of stress, things like that,” said Campbell.

The patient base at The ReLeaf Center quickly outgrew state projections within the first few months of medical marijuana sales. Campbell said he can only imagine the number of people recreational marijuana would bring in.

If recreational marijuana is legalized, The ReLeaf center will be looking at other states to see how they transitioned to selling recreational marijuana as well as medical marijuana. Campbell said there will still be red tape to go through.

Right now, there are 18 qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. According to Campbell, expanding marijuana use would mean people would have more options.

“There can be pros and cons to both sides. A lot of times the taxes tend to be higher on the recreational side, but go the medical route, you have to actually go through a process of getting approved by a doctor. That costs money a lot of times, plus time,” said Campbell.

Scott Hardin is the spokesperson for the Medical Marijuana Commission within the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. According to ADF data, there are 38 dispensaries in Arkansas. The five in Northwest Arkansas make up for more than 19% of the total medical marijuana sales in the state.

The five locations sold 817 pounds of the overall 4,245 pounds purchased across the state in August.

Hardin said the Commission is working to figure out an estimate of how much sales tax revenue recreational marijuana would generate if it was legalized.

“Anyone over 21 years of age under this proposal would be qualified to buy the product. The question is, how many do? So, that’s why we’re looking at other states, trying to come up with some kind of projection,” said Hardin.

When medical marijuana was first legalized in Arkansas, there were a lot of delays for various reasons. This time, Hardin said the licensure process for those that already sell medical marijuana would be almost instantaneous. The Alcoholic Beverage Control division would be required to issue 40 licenses.

“All the existing medical dispensaries would get a recreational license, meaning the product itself, the recreational product, would be available basically in March 2023,” said Hardin.

If recreational marijuana is legalized, when it’s all said and done, a total of 120 licenses would be allowed in the state. That’s the maximum number the law would allow.

Something else that would change if recreational marijuana becomes legal, is the sales tax on medical marijuana.

“So, you would be taxed more than 10% on recreational, but the incentive for remaining a patient and keeping your patient card would be the fact that you wouldn’t be paying 10% in state taxes every time,” said Hardin.

According to the ADF, there are currently 91,220 active patient cards in Arkansas. With a patient card, a maximum of 2.5 ounces can be purchased every 14 days.

In 2022, Arkansas patients have so far spent a total of about $750,000 per day on medical marijuana purchases. On average, patients purchase about 4,000 pounds of medical marijuana each month.

Since the first dispensary opened in May 2019, the state has collected $78.7 million in state tax revenue from medical marijuana. According to Hardin, from that total, $62 million was donated to UAMS to create a National Cancer Institute.

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