Medical Marijuana Businesses Welcome in Eureka Springs

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.(KNWA) -- Medical marijuana businesses are welcome in Eureka Springs, according to the city’s mayor.

“Absolutely they’re welcome in the city,” said Mayor Robert Berry.

He went on to say the city will welcome potential medical marijuana businesses with open arms, and he views them as a positive asset to the city’s economy.

Berry said he’s already spoken with multiple individuals who’d like to open a dispensary in Eureka Springs. He also spoke with someone who would like to open a cultivation center where medical marijuana would be grown but believes the town is too small for that.

And it’s not just dispensaries; the mayor said he wants to see labs and other related businesses come to the city as well.

Of course, some Eureka Springs residents have concerns about the new businesses. Former Carroll County Sheriff Bob Grudek, now a Eureka Springs resident, feels that there’s a potential for abuse with this newly legalized program.

Grudek served as the county’s sheriff for eight years and spent 20 years in federal law enforcement prior to that.

One of his concerns is it’ll be too easy for anyone to get access to medical marijuana, believing some doctors will freely hand out prescriptions for it.

Grudek said he’s watched people come up with some great programs to help others, but most of those programs end up being abused.

A City of Healing

The mayor said medical marijuana will fit right in with the town’s main theme of healing.

“Eureka being a healing town to begin with, medical marijuana fits right into it,” Berry said.

Since being founded on July 4, 1879, thousands have flocked to the city due to “miraculous, healing waters,” according to the city’s website.

Grudek says he understands the need for medical marijuana and recognizes that it can do some good.

“I know people need it,” he said.

But the former sheriff is worried about people abusing newly legalized medical marijuana. He pointed to the current problem Americans are facing with addiction to opioids and fears similar problems will arise with medical cannabis.

Grudek said legalizing medical marijuana also puts doctors in the precarious position of having to decide whether to prescribe a substance that’s still illegal at the federal level.

Location Restrictions

Potential medical marijuana businesses won’t be restricted to any one part of Eureka Springs. The mayor said they’ll be welcome in any area that’s commercially zoned, and that includes the city’s historic downtown area.

“[They’re welcome] basically any place within city limits,” the mayor said.

Two potential business owners the mayor spoke with already have general locations picked out. One wants to open shop downtown, and the other up on U.S. 62 in an area the mayor called “up on the hill.”

“If we got both [dispensaries], we’d be very happy to have two of them,” Berry said.

As a Eureka Springs resident, Grudek said he doesn’t want to see a dispensary open up downtown.

He’s worried about the increased number of drivers who’ll use the substance and then get behind the wheel in Eureka Springs, pointing to an increase in people using the substance and then driving after it became legal in Colorado.

Impact on Law Enforcement

With medical marijuana still being illegal at the national level, it’s impossible to predict if any federal agents will sweep future businesses in Eureka Springs.

White House Spokesman Sean Spicer has differentiated between medical marijuana and recreational pot (which still remains illegal under both federal and Arkansas law) when speaking of possible crackdowns. This may mean medical marijuana gets a pass from the federal authorities for the time being. Of course, policy can change at any time.

Berry said the Eureka Springs Police Department could be impacted by future medical marijuana businesses, and officers would have to ramp up security.

“There’s going to be some issues that come up as far as security goes. It may end up being a little more of a burden on our police department that we’re going to have to figure out how that will be paid for,” the mayor said.

Eureka Springs Police Chief Thomas Achord said he doesn’t anticipate an influx of low-level criminal activity if a dispensary opens.

“It’s going to be the same folks doing it now. They’ll just have a card,” he said.

The chief agreed with Berry there may be a need to hire additional officers if a dispensary opens up, especially since they’re cash-only businesses.

“They have a lot of money, and a valuable product,” Achord said.

As a former sheriff, Grudek said his primary concern for law enforcement would be stopping impaired drivers that use medical marijuana and then choose to get behind the wheel.

He’s also worried about medical marijuana being exported from Arkansas to surrounding states and sold for a high price. This is a concern Achord said he also shares.

Opposition in the City

Berry said he doesn’t anticipate any pushback on medical marijuana businesses that want to make Eureka Springs their home.

“At least in the city I think our city council and everybody here is excited about it,” the mayor said.

Most seem to view it as another business opportunity for Eureka Springs, according to Berry.

Grudek said while a number in Eureka Springs may have voted for the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, some who live in surrounding towns did not.

The 73-year-old sheriff said retirees living in other areas like Holiday Island could have their own concerns about medical cannabis in Eureka Springs.

A member of the Carroll County Republican Committee who didn’t want her name used said Carroll County is divided, and while some on the west side may support legalized medical marijuana, a good number of those who live on the east side of the county in Berryville and Green Forest voted against the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment in 2016.

A Resurgence for the City

Eureka Springs sees a great deal of tourism, and the mayor doesn’t think having medical marijuana businesses in town will diminish those numbers at all.

Rather, he said this new industry should provide a resurgence for the city.

“I think it’s going to be a positive benefit for Eureka Springs and will contribute to the growth,” the mayor said.

Tourism may well increase with the addition of a medical marijuana dispensary, but Grudek said he fears there will be consequences that come along with that tourism.

“It may increase tourism for the wrong reasons,” he said.

With more people using medical marijuana, Grudek said he fears for more impaired drivers, the cannabis being exported and other abuses.

Additional Sales Tax

Berry said it’s hard to tell at this point what, if any, additional sales tax on medical marijuana the city may push for, but two potential future dispensary owners he spoke with said they want to give a special tax back to the city.

The mayor said that question would likely go before voters, but new medical marijuana businesses would definitely have a financial impact on the city that’s going to require some additional revenues.

The mayor was unsure just how many new jobs these potential medical marijuana businesses would bring to the city but did discuss the possibility of hiring additional police officers to boost security if and when the new businesses open.

Achord said he hopes the Eureka Springs City Council will divert some additional revenue from medical marijuana sales to allow him more officers and equipment. That’ll allow him to better handle security needs for new medical marijuana businesses.

Grudek said he wants to see Eureka Springs City Council examine not just the potential revenue medical marijuana sales tax could bring in, but also the potential negatives those businesses and their sales could have on the town.

In the end, Grudek said he wants to see those with painful chronic conditions who truly need medical marijuana get it, as long as it isn’t abused. And that’s his primary fear, that the newly legalized medicine won’t be given proper oversight and regulation.

Time will tell how other towns react to medical marijuana businesses, but Berry said Eureka Springs is open for business.

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