One toke over the line a lit­eral in Texarkana

Med­i­cal pot won’t be le­gal in Texas

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - ERIC BES­SON

Com­ing soon to Texarkana, a trans­for­ma­tion of life-al­ter­ing pro­por­tions: Medicine on one side of the street but an il­le­gal sub­stance on the other.

As Arkansas read­ies to be­come the first state in the Bi­ble Belt where mar­i­juana is legally pre­scribed and sold to pa­tients, of­fi­cials in Texarkana, Texas, say po­lice there will not rec­og­nize Arkansas’ pot per­mis­sion slips dur­ing traf­fic stops and can ar­rest peo­ple for drug pos­ses­sion.

Kenny Haskin, city man­ager of Texarkana, Ark., said prospec­tive mar­i­juana grow­ers and sellers are reach­ing out to him on a daily ba­sis to ask about lo­cal rules in what will be one of the state’s most unique mar­i­juana mar­ket­places, where le­gal and

il­le­gal pos­ses­sion de­pends on a border line.

“The in­quiries here — for what­ever rea­son — are ex- tremely, ex­tremely ag­gres­sive,” said Haskin, who fields about three calls a day. “They are com­ing in from all over the coun­try.”

The Arkansas Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Com­mis­sion on Fri­day be­gan ac­cept­ing ap­pli­ca­tions from peo­ple seek­ing to grow and sell mar­i­juana. The ap­pli­ca­tion pe­riod will close Sept. 18, and Arkansas will even­tu­ally li­cense up to 32 dis­pen­saries and five cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties in the state. The abil­ity to legally pur­chase med­i­cal mar­i­juana in Arkansas is ex­pected some­time early next year.

Cities across Arkansas have taken dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to the com­ing new in­dus­try.

Two cities have adopted month­s­long bans on pot-re­lated busi­nesses. At least one city has loos­ened its land-use rules to open the door to such busi­nesses. And many cities have taken no ac­tion, sim­ply let­ting state laws dic­tate pot busi­ness place­ment.

“There’s been ab­so­lutely noth­ing shak­ing around here,” El Do­rado Mayor Frank Hash said.

STRAD­DLING THE LINE

Arkansas’ six neigh­bors pro­hibit mar­i­juana use, putting border cities in some sticky sit­u­a­tions re­gard­ing the pot law’s roll­out. But the prob­lems are par­tic­u­larly com­plex in Texarkana, which shares a street, a U.S. post of­fice, and even its name with its Texas neigh­bor.

“Sev­eral build­ings strad­dle the [state] line,” Haskin said. “It’s very dif­fi­cult to tell when you’re in Texas and when you’re in Arkansas.”

About 30,000 peo­ple, roughly 1 per­cent of Arkansas’ pop­u­la­tion, live in Texarkana, Ark. An­other 37,000 peo­ple live in Texarkana, Texas. The com­bined Texarkana pop­u­la­tion is on par with Jones­boro, Arkansas’ fifth-largest city.

For Arkansans to legally pos­sess med­i­cal mar­i­juana, the state Depart­ment of Health, which will ad­min­is­ter med­i­cal-mar­i­juana registry cards, will re­quire an Arkansas-is­sued iden­ti­fi­ca­tion or driver’s li­cense — com­plete with a name and ad­dress that match a re­quired doc­tor’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

The Health Depart­ment says only Arkansas res­i­dents will be al­lowed to re­ceive the cards. The state is cur­rently tak­ing ap­pli­ca­tions for the med­i­cal mar­i­juana registry cards. To ap­ply for one, a pa­tient must have a doc­tor’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that he suf­fers from one of 18 med­i­cal con­di­tions for which he can be pre­scribed mar­i­juana as a treat­ment.

The Health Depart­ment has re­it­er­ated that it is cur­rently still il­le­gal to pos­sess mar­i­juana in Arkansas.

Haskin says he’s open to new pot busi­nesses go­ing in on his side of the line, but Texas au­thor­i­ties are not.

Shawn Vaughn, a spokesman for the Texarkana, Texas, Po­lice Depart­ment, said of­fi­cers there will not rec­og­nize Arkansas Health Depart­ment-is­sued cards on pre­scribed mar­i­juana.

“From our per­spec­tive, it’s still il­le­gal in any shape, form or fash­ion in Texas,” Vaughn said. “Any­body who has mar­i­juana, med­i­cal or oth­er­wise, in their pos­ses­sion … would be sub­ject to ar­rest in Texas.”

The Texas Depart­ment of Public Safety, which over­sees high­way pa­trols in that state, did not re­spond to spe­cific ques­tions about how its troop­ers plan to han­dle Arkansas-pre­scribed mar­i­juana cases.

“Mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion is il­le­gal in Texas,” the depart­ment sim­ply said.

Un­der the new Arkansas law, qual­i­fy­ing pa­tients and care­givers will be al­lowed to buy up to 2½ ounces of mar­i­juana ev­ery 14 days.

Hold­ing that amount in Texas would be a mis­de­meanor pun­ish­able by up to one year in prison and a max­i­mum fine of $4,000. That’s on par with Arkansas’ law, which will con­tinue to ap­ply to peo­ple who don’t have pre­scrip­tions for mar­i­juana.

“If you’re an Arkansas res­i­dent and you’ve been per­mit­ted to ac­quire med­i­cal mar­i­juana, you prob­a­bly need to keep it home,” Texarkana, Texas, City Man­ager John Whit­son said.

Avoid­ing Texas won’t be easy in that city where the two states are “melded to­gether,” Haskin said.

The miles-long State Line Av­enue bi­sects the city. North­bound driv­ers are in Arkansas, but a U-turn would put them in Texas.

Liquor stores, banned on the Texas side of town, are pop­u­lar along north­bound State Line Av­enue.

So a med­i­cal-mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary along State Line Av­enue would cre­ate a chal­lenge for buy­ers.

Texarkana of­fi­cials looked into ban­ning dis­pen­saries along the heav­ily traf­ficked road­way but opted against it. In places, prop­erty there could ac­com­mo­date dis­pen­saries with­out run­ning afoul of lo­cal zon­ing laws and the state-re­quired buf­fer zone around churches and schools, Haskin said.

City of­fi­cials are ad­vis­ing cau­tion for dis­pen­sary de­vel­op­ers.

State Line Av­enue “is where we gen­er­ate a lot of traf­fic,” Haskin said. “I could see why … State Line would be an area of in­ter­est. Tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the fact that Texas has not en­dorsed the med­i­cal mar­i­juana ef­fort, cer­tainly that puts the po­ten­tial cus­tomer in a com­pro­mis­ing sit­u­a­tion, I would say.”

OTHER CITIES VARY

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment — which clas­si­fies mar­i­juana as a drug with no med­i­cal pur­pose and a high po­ten­tial for abuse — still con­sid­ers it il­le­gal to grow, buy, sell, pos­sess or in­gest.

In­clud­ing Arkansas, 29 states have passed laws to al­low doc­tors to pre­scribe mar­i­juana as treat­ment for a va­ri­ety of ail­ments. Eight states have le­gal­ized recre­ational use of pot.

None of the six states that border Arkansas — Texas, Oklahoma, Mis­souri, Ten­nessee, Mis­sis­sippi and Louisiana — have le­gal­ized mar­i­juana, aside from al­low­ing cannabis oil for lim­ited af­flic­tions, such as se­vere epilepsy.

Gen­er­ally, two Arkansas laws will gov­ern where dis­pen­saries

and cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties can op­er­ate in the state.

One re­quires a buf­fer zone around schools and churches — 3,000 feet for cul­ti­va­tion and 1,500 feet for dis­pen­saries. The other law bans cities from im­pos­ing stricter place­ment re­quire­ments on med­i­cal-mar­i­juana fa­cil­i­ties than they do on tra­di­tional phar­ma­cies.

Siloam Springs and Hot Springs, how­ever, have im­posed month­s­long mora­to­ri­ums on med­i­cal mar­i­juana busi­nesses, the strong­est stance against the in­dus­try.

Fort Smith, mean­while, opened more of its land for med­i­cal mar­i­juana pur­poses. Sev­eral weeks ago the city’s board voted to al­low phar­ma­cies — and thus mar­i­juana grow­ers and sellers — into ar­eas zoned for in­dus­trial use.

“We weren’t try­ing to make it eas­ier or more dif­fi­cult,” Mayor Sandy San­ders said. “We just felt it would be more ap­pro­pri­ate to have [the busi­nesses] in a man­u­fac­tur­ing area rather than a com­mer­cial zone.”

Lit­tle Rock’s Plan­ning Com­mis­sion adopted the state’s def­i­ni­tions for dis­pen­saries and cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties into its zon­ing laws. It also agreed to the mar­i­juana-phar­ma­cies pro­vi­sions.

The com­mis­sion’s ac­tion still re­quires Board of Di­rec­tors’ ap­proval. Zon­ing spe­cific to the state’s largest city al­lows phar­ma­cies in com­mer­cial, in­dus­trial and of­fice ar­eas, with some ex­cep­tions.

El Do­rado, 15 miles north of the Louisiana border, is tak­ing a sim­i­lar ap­proach. City lead­ers don’t plan to change zon­ing rules in ways that would ex­pand or limit ac­cess to med­i­cal-mar­i­juana fa­cil­i­ties, the city’s mayor said.

In Marion, which is roughly 11 miles from Mem­phis, city of­fi­cials reached out to the Arkansas Mu­nic­i­pal League for guid­ance on how it can keep out mar­i­juana fa­cil­i­ties, a staff at­tor­ney said.

Re­peated at­tempts to reach the mayor, who works out of an in­sur­ance of­fice in the east Arkansas city of 12,000, were un­suc­cess­ful.

He­lena-West He­lena Mayor Jay Hol­low­ell said Phillips County res­i­dents are work­ing on pro­pos­als to open dis­pen­saries and a cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­ity in the Arkansas Delta city and its broader county. Of­fi­cials are not plan­ning to change zon­ing rules or im­pose any re­stric­tions, he said.

“We kind of look at it as an eco­nomic devel­op­ment tool,” Hol­low­ell said. “We feel like — es­pe­cially if this group is suc­cess­ful in the cul­ti­va­tion piece — it could add 50 to 60 jobs to our com­mu­nity. We take that se­ri­ous.”

Hot Springs’ tem­po­rary ban sparked in­ter­est in Texarkana, Haskin said. The two cities are in the same geo­graphic re­gion that the Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Com­mis­sion will use to spread out dis­pen­sary li­censes.

The po­ten­tial for the border city to ac­quire an ad­di­tional dis­pen­sary be­cause of Hot Springs’ mora­to­rium “looms large,” Haskin said.

On Wed­nes­day, Haskin said, Texarkana may be­come one of the first cities in the state to set lo­cal li­cens­ing fees for mar­i­juana busi­nesses.

The Board of Di­rec­tors will con­sider an or­di­nance to re­quire $50,000 per year for a cul­ti­va­tion li­cense, $7,500 for an ini­tial dis­pen­sary li­cense and an $11,250 an­nual re­newal fee for dis­pen­saries, ac­cord­ing to its agenda.

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