Sales of medical marijuana in Arkansas have topped $200 million since the state’s first dispensary opened in May 2019.

The state Department of Finance and Administration announced the higher than projected sales last month, with the overwhelming majority of purchases coming in the past year after a slow start to Arkansas’ medical marijuana program. 2020 saw a 900 percent increase in medical marijuana sales compared to 2019.

“We’ve managed to operate without any major disruptions since the launch of our first dispensary,” said Scott Hardin of the state Department of Finance. “[In] state taxes, you can take 10.5% of that and that is what the state is going to be collected, so roughly $20 million overall collected,” he added.

At the beginning of 2020, Arkansas had 10 operating medical cannabis dispensaries but ended the year with 32, while a further six retail license applications are under review.

In total, more than 30,000 pounds of medical cannabis has been sold to around 80,000 registered patients. Around 20 percent of these sales come from just two of the state’s 32 dispensaries: Green Springs Medical in Hot Springs and the Releaf Center in Bentonville. Owners of businesses selling marijuana-based products such as CBD and hemp also reported strong sales, spurred by the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We survived COVID very, very well,” said Dawn Harpell , the owner of Miss D’s CBD and Hemp Shop. “People were very stressed out and we turn to our vices when we are stressed. We do CBD, and we saw a lot of people with anxiety during that time period.”

But medical marijuana dispensaries were not always able to keep up with demand, meaning business owners often raised prices. This led the state regulator, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, to consider new licensing applications for cannabis processors and transporters. But Christopher Miles, an Arkansas medical marijuana patient who runs a website about developments in the state’s medical cannabis program, believes the problem lies primarily with the fact there are only four licensed cultivators in Arkansas.

“If you look at our neighboring states like Oklahoma they have 2,000,” Miles said.

Projections for Arkansas’ medical marijuana market have recently been revised to account for its 2020 performance. Marijuana Business Factbook now anticipates the state will bring in sales of between $300 million and $365 million in 2021.

Cannabis was legalized in Arkansas to treat certain medical conditions following a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2016, but the state still has some of the country’s harshest marijuana laws.

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