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Researchers To Investigate Arkansas’ Medical Cannabis Program

November 24, 2021 08:30 am ET
Researchers To Investigate Arkansas’ Medical Cannabis Program

For the first time ever, researchers will conduct a comprehensive state population health analysis to understand the impact of medical cannabis on consumers’ healthcare—and it’s all happening in Arkansas. To fund the study, a $1.3 million research grant has been bestowed upon a research team at the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), courtesy of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The NIDA-funded investigation will delve into the health-related repercussions of Arkansas’ medical cannabis program, which was initially approved by voters back in 2016. The state has over 79,000 active medical marijuana ID cardholders who, reports show, have purchased more than 60,000 pounds of medical cannabis—equivalent to $400 million in transactions—since the first dispensary opened its doors in May 2019.

ACHI identifies itself as a sovereign health policy center that was formed in 1998. The nonpartisan center’s primary aim is to enhance Arkansans’ health by providing them with cooperative program development, evidence-rooted research, and social matter advocacy.

A Deep Dive Into Cannabis Consumer Data

In order to understand how medical cannabis legalization has had an impact on consumer medical care in Arkansas, the researchers will merge qualifying consumers’ cannabis purchase data with information pulled from insurance claims records, among other data sources. The study will also explore the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the state’s program.

“This is an exciting and unique opportunity for not only our state, but also the country, to investigate the effectiveness of cannabis for therapeutic use,” said the president and CEO of ACHI, Dr. Joe Thompson. “While researchers have gathered scientific evidence on the use of cannabis for the alleviation of symptoms such as pain and anxiety, there is little evidence on how the amount, strain, potency, and method of use affect a person’s health experience.”

Thompson also serves as the study’s co-principal investigator. He will be joined by another co-principal investigator, Teresa J. Hudson, Ph.D., Pharm.D. Hudson is acknowledged as director of the Division of Health Services Research at UAMS and also maintains a position as an associate director at the VA Health Services Research and Development Center for Mental Healthcare and Outcomes Research.

A total of six data sources will be analyzed for the study, including the Arkansas Healthcare Transparency Initiative’s Arkansas All-Payer Claims Database (APCD). “The APCD is a dynamic tool that promotes transparency in healthcare data, and by combining these datasets, our state can assess specific health outcomes, including inpatient and outpatient care visits, emergency visits, opioid usage and new health diagnosis,” explained commissioner for the Arkansas Insurance Department, Alan McClain.

McClain’s department provides oversight for the Arkansas Healthcare Transparency Initiative, which supports the APCD project. According to the investigators who’ve been tasked with carrying out this study, each of the following additional sources will also ensure a more comprehensive analysis:

  1. Medical marijuana dispensary purchase documents
  2. Vital patient records
  3. Emergency room records
  4. Arkansas State Police motor vehicle crash analysis
  5. Arkansas Department of Health medical marijuana patient enrollment data

Rising Tax Revenue From Arkansas’ Medical Cannabis Sales

The state of Arkansas has raked in almost $50 million in tax revenue from medical marijuana sales since the market got into full swing in mid-2019. Of that amount, $25 million was accrued during the last nine months alone. Based on the existing law, all medical cannabis sold at the state’s licensed dispensaries is taxed at 10.5%. Of that, 4% privilege tax is provided to UAMS for the formation of a national cancer institute.

“If you walk into a dispensary and spend $100, you’ll spend $10.50 additionally in state taxes,” said Scott Hardin, who is a member of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission team. He noted that the industry has been going from strength to strength during the coronavirus pandemic. “Those two taxes, we’ve collected just under $50,000,000, 49.6 million to be specific.”

The Arkansas Department of Health issued Executive Orders 20-06 and 20-16 that temporarily allowed the use of telehealth for medical cannabis certifications amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, those orders ended on March 31, 2021. Since April 1, 2021, physicians have been forbidden from distributing medical marijuana recommendations based on an assessment conducted through telemedicine. Should this change again in the future, the state might see even higher cannabis tax revenue.

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Bethan Rose Jenkins
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