Pursuing medical pot: how folks will qualify for medical marijuana in Arkansas

(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)

TRUMANN, AR (WMC) - Pain has limits. Pain has thresholds. A man can take only so much pain.

Pain is seeing just how far it can take Tobey Bittle.

"It takes everything from you," Bittle said, lowering his glasses to wipe his tears. "It takes your control. It takes your ability. It takes everything from you."

Chronic pain's been taking everything from Bittle for 15 years. In 2002, he totaled his 4-door sedan in a violent crash. 36 broken bones. A bruised heart. Busted spleen. Head trauma. He was on a respirator for over a week.

15 years later, Bittle can barely get out of bed, despite six surgeries and 21 prescriptions, six for managing pain that's really managing him. He confessed something to me that he said he's never told his wife or family: he regularly considers suicide. "Every day," he said. "And the only thing that keeps me from doing it is I love my family too much."

Click here to watch Bittle's uncut interview.

Bittle's pain is why he may be the first resident of East Arkansas to apply for an Arkansas medical marijuana patient card. The Arkansas Department of Health started accepting applications for the cards June 30 in the wake of Arkansas voters approving an amendment to the state's constitution last November to legalize medicinal marijuana. The $50 cards, good for one year and renewable, will be issued only to qualifying Arkansas residents 30 days before their first marijuana allotment, according to Arkansas Department of Health spokesperson Marisha DiCarlo.

Except you have to have farms to grow it and dispensaries to sell it. Jake Bleed said that won't happen until the end of this year or the beginning of 2018.

"We've been taking dispensary and cultivator applications since July 1, and we'll continue taking them through September 18," said Bleed, spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration, the parent agency of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission and Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). "After that, we will begin the scoring process."

That process, we've learned, will be long, arduous, and highly regulated. Bleed said under the amendment's authority, Arkansas will license five medical marijuana farms, or "cultivation facilities," and 32 dispensaries. The dispensaries will be approved and assigned among eight zones, with each zone granted four dispensaries. Zone 3 is the one with most of the Arkansas counties in our viewing area. The farms could be awarded anywhere statewide, Bleed said.

He added that both cultivation and dispensary applicants will have to meet testing, inspection, and other requirements. "Have you been a resident of the state for seven years, can you pass the background checks, do you have the sort of secure facility, the sort of financing, the sort of financial support you'll need to operate," Bleed listed, to name a few.

DiCarlo emphasized medical marijuana will not be dispensed to qualifying Arkansans as a prescription. That would violate federal law. Instead, DiCarlo said it would be dispensed as an allotment -- two and a half ounces every 14 days -- and only for patients who meet specified conditions in the Arkansas health department's Medical Marijuana Physician Written Certification form.

"Anything from Alzheimer's Disease to some terminal illnesses that may cause excruciating pain," said DiCarlo.

It includes "intractable pain..." that has not been able to be treated by medication or surgery for "...more than six (6) months."  The same pain that has punished Tobey Bittle for so long.

"This gives me hope," he said. "I wouldn't have to take so much medicine. I could lean it all on marijuana, and I know it makes it better."


Arkansas Department of Health Medical Marijuana Online Application

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