LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Since the first dispensary opened back in 2019, the medical marijuana industry has blossomed here in Arkansas.
Now, that growth is continuing with a new way for patients to connect with a doctor, without even leaving their house.
Since the pandemic, telehealth has become a way of life for many and it's something doctors believe is here to stay.
This is why medical marijuana companies are excited to expand it to their patients, but it was a battle against lawmakers to get to this point.
"There's several items that were temporary, a temporary fix during the pandemic, that were popular with Arkansans and helpful and because of that, they're now permanent," Scott Hardin, Medical Marijuana Commission Spokesperson, said.
Telehealth was one of those temporary fixes turned permanent, thanks to the Arkansas legislature.
As this demand for virtual appointments continues, so does the expansion, with companies like Elevate Holistics, which Aspen Jewel is the Director of Operations for.
"We essentially connect doctors to patients in the process of getting a medical card," she said.
Elevate Holistics is a virtual telehealth company that provides medical marijuana cards for patients across the country, and according to Jewel, now it's available for Arkansans.
"Arkansas has a lot of residents living in rural communities and providing affordable access to cannabis information and doctors is so important because not many doctors can give their patients cannabis approvals," she said.
Through Elevate Holistics, all patients have to do is go to the website, and they can renew their medical marijuana cards virtually.
But according to Jewel, Arkansas state law doesn't allow first time appointments to be done online, yet.
"These laws really are constantly changing, and we're just checking state websites and calling representatives and seeing what the new laws are," she said.
No matter what the law is though, Hardin said, this is a big move for the industry.
"There are simply people that don't want to go into a revenue office, they don't want to go into a doctor's office, so when you give them this telehealth option, then this is something they may pursue," he said.
A new option, that Hardin believes, will increase demand even more.
"It's going to be really interesting to see, over the next few months, exactly how that affects the number of cards," he said.
Hardin said when medical marijuana was approved back in 2016, they expected there to be about 50,000 people with a card.
Well today, that number is at 80,000.