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Applications released 

The Medical Marijuana Commission released 326 applications from persons seeking to be licensed as dispensaries and/or cultivators of medical marijuana last week, documents that did not identify the applicant but did provide business names, phone numbers and names of the companies' registered agents (including Asa Hutchinson III, the son of the governor, who is representing a Bentonville grower applicant).

The Arkansas Times called a few of the numbers, but many did not wish to comment or did not call back. For example, Amber Weinzimer, who is applying for a dispensary license for Hot Springs Medical, responded "no comment" to questions about her current job, what she hopes for her dispensary to be like and her past experience that would be helpful. She did say she applied "Just to help Arkansans" and that she has no other investors backing the project. "It's me," she said when asked about her team.

One potential dispensary owner said he would not comment because he did not want to do anything to give the state a reason to deny his request. But that didn't make any sense to Mitchell Wine, applying for a dispensary license for The Hemp Cafe in Mountain View, in the heart of Stone County. "You wouldn't do that if you were starting some other business," he said.

Wine and his partner, Chuck Widmer, have gone before the Stone County Quorum Court and the Mountain View City Council asking for permission to open their operation and have spoken with the Stone County Sheriff's Office, too. Wine says they hope to meet with the women's shelter and animal rescue and local businesses, too. They've pitched the potential dispensary as a new hub of economic activity.

Wine thinks outreach is essential. "I don't think you can come in and just sell pot," he said. "We need to come in and show the community what we're about." Wine hopes to open in a 7,000-square-foot building off state Highway 66 that used to house the Stone County drug court; he is leasing the building to buy for $1,500 a month. (On the idea of a dispensary on a former drug court, he said, "It's ironic.") The cafe will also sell natural foods from local businesses. Doctors and pharmacists will be on hand and healthy-living classes will be held.

Wine will also do research into how cannabis affects the community using Sheriff's Office data on DUI numbers. "Everything you experience when you walk into our door should be something that's good for you," Wine said.

The dispensary applications did not ask for information on how the business would benefit the community, nor did they ask if local politicians and community leaders approved. "They don't give you any credit for that in the application process, but I think they should have," he said.

A potential pitfall is that, as happened in Washington County, where the Quorum Court denied a permit for the Native Flower cultivation center, local governments could prohibit a state-approved dispensary or cultivation. It makes Wine worry that another kind of politics may come into play when the committee selects the companies to be licensed. "We didn't come from money and we don't have connections," he told the Times. "We have a strong team but that only goes so far when politics comes into play."

If you're looking to break into the dispensary industry, consider going to the Arkansas Cannabis Dispensary Agent Training scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 20 at the DoubleTree hotel on Rogers Avenue in Fort Smith. It's being organized by the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association and tickets cost $149. Speakers will include, among others: Frank Hawkins, a dispensary owner from Nevada and a former running back with the Oakland/LA Raiders; Josh Winingham, a pharmacist and owner of Arkansas-based cannabis consulting firm called PhytoPharm.D; and Sara Payan, the vice-chair of the San Francisco Cannabis State Legalization Task Force and a national writer about medical marijuana. Certificates will be awarded upon the completion of the training. Topics will include everything from tips for dealing with state regulations to the everyday running of a dispensary. Call 501-238-1800 for more information. Tickets are available on eventbrite.com.

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