Man pro­vides in­for­ma­tion on mar­i­juana plan

County plan­ners lis­ten to de­tails

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - TOM SISSOM

BENTONVILLE — Ben­ton County plan­ners got an ini­tial look Wed­nes­day at a pro­posal for a mar­i­juana cul­ti­va­tion op­er­a­tion, but no for­mal ac­tion is sched­uled.

Ray Hens­ley of Bentonville met with the county’s De­vel­op­ment Re­view Com­mit­tee to dis­cuss re­quire­ments for such a busi­ness. Hens­ley said he’s look­ing at sites in both Ben­ton and Wash­ing­ton coun­ties as po­ten­tial lo­ca­tions for cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties and dis­pen­saries if he’s able to ob­tain a state per­mit.

Arkansas vot­ers ap­proved the Arkansas Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Amend­ment 53 per­cent to 47 per­cent in Novem­ber. The state cre­ated the Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Com­mis­sion to set up the rules to grant li­censes to dis­pen­saries and cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties based on the merit of their ap­pli­ca­tions. The com­mis­sion di­vided the state into eight zones with from 20 to 40 dis­pen­saries ap­proved across the state.

The state will is­sue four to eight cul­ti­va­tion li­censes. The ap­proved cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties don’t have to be spread out.

The Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Com­mis­sion, which is­sues the per­mits for cul­ti­va­tors and dis­pensers, is one of three state agen­cies in­volved in im­ple­ment­ing the med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram. The state’s Al­co­holic Bev­er­age Con­trol will in­spect the fa­cil­i­ties and the Health De­part­ment will is­sue registry cards to pa­tients whose doc­tors have rec­om­mended the drug.

Hens­ley said he has pro­vided plans for a dis­pen­sary to Bentonville of­fi­cials and has dis­cussed his plans with of­fi­cials in Fayetteville and Wash­ing­ton County. For the Ben­ton County grow­ing op­er­a­tion, Hens­ley iden­ti­fied land at 11013 WPA Road near Gen­try. The prop­erty is used as a poul­try grow­ing op­er­a­tion and Hens­ley said, if ap­proved, he would ei­ther con­vert two of the chicken houses for use in the grow­ing op­er­a­tion or build a fa­cil­ity to house the busi­ness.

The plan­ners told Hens­ley the mar­i­juana cul­ti­va­tion op­er­a­tions aren’t con­sid­ered an agri­cul­tural op­er­a­tion, which is al­lowed in Ben­ton County as a “use by right.” As a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion the plans will have to meet plan­ning reg­u­la­tions and go through the site re­view process, which in­cludes a re­view and pub­lic hear­ing by the Plan­ning Board.

Much of Wed­nes­day’s dis­cus­sion cen­tered around wa­ter and waste­water is­sues. Caro­line East­man, with the state Health De­part­ment, told Hens­ley he would need to have sep­tic sys­tems de­signed and ap­proved for the new op­er­a­tion and told him he needed to check on any sep­a­rate state reg­u­la­tions re­gard­ing waste­water dis­posal from the grow­ing op­er­a­tion. John Sud­duth, gen­eral ser­vices ad­min­is­tra­tor who over­sees the Plan­ning De­part­ment, also cau­tioned Hens­ley to avoid do­ing any­thing on site that would en­croach on the flood­plain cre­ated by a creek on the south­ern edge of the prop­erty.

Hens­ley said he’s work­ing with a firm with ex­pe­ri­ence in mar­i­juana grow­ing op­er­a­tions in six other states. He said Arkansas’ re­quire­ments are among the most strin­gent.

“Arkansas has pushed it to the high­est form,” he said.

No of­fi­cial ac­tion was taken Wed­nes­day. Hens­ley said he will take the in­for­ma­tion he gath­ered and work with his part­ners in de­vel­op­ing a more de­tailed plan.

Kevin Gam­brill, plan­ning di­rec­tor, said Hens­ley’s pro­posal is the third med­i­cal mar­i­juana grow­ing op­er­a­tion the county has been con­tacted about. One other group met with the com­mit­tee but a sec­ond ap­pli­cant can­celled a sched­uled meet­ing. Gam­brill the county will con­sider any plans sub­mit­ted ac­cord­ing to the nor­mal de­vel­op­ment reg­u­la­tions.

“We can ap­ply rea­son­able plan­ning reg­u­la­tions, but we can’t deny them out­right,” he said.

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