Man provides information on marijuana plan
County planners listen to details
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.