Winding roads and rich foliage provide a serene journey to the tall white barn. Inside is The ReLeaf Center, which, upon opening Aug. 9 in Bentonville, became the first medical marijuana dispensary to serve Northwest Arkansas since the 2016 statewide legalization of licensed medical marijuana use.
An hour before business hours commence, employees transport cardboard boxes from a locked safe. They move quickly, loading glass display cases with rows of cannabis products housed in labeled containers. Television screens mounted on the wall behind the counters list menu items with corresponding prices. Brand merchandise, as well as products like grinders and oil slicks, fill the wooden shelves lining the walls.
The building’s entry features a video camera intercom for guests and a fingerprint scanner for employees. Once inside the building, guests are required to sign in and submit their state-issued registered patient cards and government IDs for scanning. Patients with qualifying conditions must provide proof of the allotted dosages prescribed by their doctors.
Some qualifying conditions include cancer, severe arthritis, seizures and Alzheimer’s disease, according to The ReLeaf Center.
The dispensary offers more than 30 strains of cannabis, while some Arkansas dispensaries only offer between 6-10, ReLeaf Center Superintendent Buddy Wayne said.
More than 200 distinguished strains circulate the cannabis market, and different strains have different effects on the human body, Wayne said.
The three strain types are indica, sativa and hybrid. Cannabis users generally associate indica strains with sedative effects and earthy flavors, while sativa strains are typically identified by uplifting effects and tropical flavors, according to The ReLeaf Center. Hybrid strains provide a mixture of these effects and flavors.
The ReLeaf Center offers both THC and CBD products. CBD is non-intoxicating and known to relieve anxiety, inflammation and pain, while THC produces a “high,” according to The ReLeaf Center.
The store features technology designed to help customers find the right product to meet their needs. A digital touch device displays a screen that provides information on individual strains such as medical purposes, side effects, and reviews. Customers can add products to their shopping cart, and store management will notify them when their orders are ready.
The creation of a dispensary in NWA was a response to the will of the voters, Wayne said. In its first three weeks of business, The ReLeaf Center garnered thousands of visitors, many of whom drove across the state for its opening, he said.
“No one could have possibly anticipated the Northwest Arkansas response,” Wayne said. “It’s historic.”
Some customers come every day and quickly developed relationships with staff members, he said. ReLeaf Center employees are devoted to helping community members get needed relief from “a medicine that for years has been banned,” Wayne said.
Qualified registered patients may purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana from a dispensary every 14 days, according to The ReLeaf Center.
The marijuana industry, which was once characterized by black market transactions and criminal activity, is now a competitive market fueled by tax-paying businesses, Wayne said.
Wayne expects the store to change with the quickly evolving industry, he said.
ReLeaf Center customer Karen Holmes, a registered cardholder, waited a long time for a dispensary to open in NWA, she said. Holmes, who suffers from a brain condition, relies on medical marijuana for relief.
The overwhelming benefits Holmes has seen from medical marijuana use have eliminated her need for many prescription pills, she said.
Wayne thinks the presence of a dispensary will inspire more NWA residents to obtain medical marijuana licenses, he said.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Wayne said. “When the patients keep coming back and buying more, we know it’s working.”
Arkansas currently serves 19,227 medical cannabis patients, with 932 applications still in progress, according to the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association.
Two dispensaries, the Acanza Health Group and the Northwest Arkansas Medical Cannabis Group, are projected to open facilities in Fayetteville in the future.