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Bill could disrupt planned El Dorado dispensary

Posted on April 17, 2019

By Caitlan Butler
Staff Writer

A bill signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday could disrupt location plans for a marijuana dispensary set to open in El Dorado.

Senate bill 665 (SB665), sponsored by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, amends the medical marijuana amendment of 2016 to include a distance requirement for facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities. The bill prohibits marijuana dispensaries from opening within 1,500 feet of a facility for individuals with developmental disabilities.

The medical marijuana amendment already had provisions preventing dispensaries from opening within 1,500 feet of schools, churches and day care centers. Garner said not including facilities for those with developmental disabilities was an oversight.

“The original language included places like schools, day cares – you know, these populations that are vulnerable. I just think it was an oversight,” Garner said. “I think there’s some very big problems with the way it was written and we had to put together a legislative package to address it at the last session.”

It was announced in February that El Dorado would be the site of a medical marijuana dispensary when the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission awarded 32 dispensary licenses across the state. A representative from Verano Holdings visited the El Dorado City Council that same month to introduce the company as the license-holder and talk about their plans for the dispensary.

Wes McGowan, Verano’s vice president of real estate, told council members they were considering a property at 2511 Calion Road for the dispensary.

The Newman House is a facility for women with developmental disabilities, located directly behind Verano’s proposed dispensary location on Calion Road. Garner said the Newman House is about 300 feet from the proposed dispensary location and will prohibit Verano from opening a dispensary at the proposed location.

“I heard from some very concerned citizens in El Dorado who were worried about a medical marijuana facility moving into an area that had a developmentally disabled facility within 300 feet of it,” Garner said. “After listening to the concerns of the citizens in that area and that facility, I decided to change the law to protect those vulnerable citizens.”

When asked whether the bill would affect Verano’s plans, a representative for the company said they do not have an answer at this time. The property owner of 2511 Calion Road said a sale of the property had not been made yet.

Because of an emergency clause in SB665, it will go into effect almost immediately, Garner said. Only dispensaries that have not had their locations approved by the Medical Marijuana Commission will be affected, Garner said.

“It’s more about permitting it across the state,” Garner said. “We looked at the law and I think that most people who open dispensaries will work with the community to put them in the best spots. I don’t think El Dorado itself is hostile to having a dispensary or facility in El Dorado city limits, so long as it’s done in a place that isn’t a risk to highly vulnerable people.”

Since Verano’s original application listed 3955 Mt. Holly Road as the planned location for the dispensary, representatives from the company will have to appear before the Medical Marijuana Commission to present any location changes.

The announcement that Verano was considering the property at 2511 Calion Road drew criticism from El Dorado residents. At a town hall meeting in March, residents from Ward 1, where the proposed location is, said they believed the dispensary should be in a medical or commercial area rather than a residential one, adding that a dispensary in a neighborhood could reduce the quality of life.

“I think that location was bad in several different ways,” said Mike Rice, Ward 1 council member. “Now, with it having to be here, I think maybe they’ve found some other locations that would be more suitable and hopefully they’re going to find something that fits them and fits the traffic flow and everything that we already have available.”

Rice’s City Council counterpart, fellow Ward 1 council member Billy Blann, agreed.

“I’m glad that the citizens prevailed in that because the marijuana dispensary can locate somewhere else. I don’t know what their options are at this time, but I’m happy for the citizens of Ward 1 that they were able to prevail in that area,” Blann said.

In March, it was reported that Verano Holdings, LLC and Harvest Health & Recreation, Inc. had reached a binding agreement for the acquisition of Verano, pending regulatory review. A representative for Verano did not respond to multiple requests for comment on that subject. It is unclear whether the acquisition includes Verano’s dispensary license for El Dorado and how it will affect plans for the dispensary.

Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or