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story.lead_photo.caption Hunter McFerrin/Herald-Leader

WEST SILOAM SPRINGS, Okla. -- The first medical cannabis dispensary in West Siloam Springs, Okla., opened its doors on March 1, making it the 15th store of its kind to open in Delaware County.

The store, located at 4876 U.S. Highway 412 is owned by Rizwan Ahmad of RZA Enterprises LLC and is called The Releaf Center. Ahmad was born in Pakistan, immigrated to the United States around 1987 and moved to West Siloam Springs in 1997, where he owned an alcohol store on the state line for about 17 years up until Benton County began selling alcohol, he said.

In addition to selling the actual cannabis plant itself, or "flowers," as Ahmad called them, the store sells cannabis concentrates that are much more potent than regular flower buds themselves, as well as edible products like chocolate bars and drinks that are infused with THC, which is the compound in the plant that causes the "high" that is associated with the drug. They also sell products that do not contain THC, such as Kratom, water pipes or CBD products, the latter of which has recently become legal at the federal level, he said.

Those who wish to purchase cannabis products from the store must have a medical marijuana card issued by the state of Oklahoma at a doctor's recommendation, Ahmad said. He emphasized that the laws are not similar to those in California or Colorado, and that recreational purchases at the store are not permitted. Oklahoma medical marijuana card holders wishing to grow their own product also have the option of growing up to six mature plants as well as six seedlings.

While business has been slow so far due to their recent opening, many of the customers that have come in were able to obtain recommendations from doctors in Fayetteville and get issued cards by the state of Oklahoma, Ahmad said. There are also a number of doctors in Oklahoma who issue recommendations, such as in Grove, Tahlequah, Tulsa or Broken Arrow.

In addition, Arkansas medical marijuana cardholders have the option of applying for an Oklahoma identification card that would allow them to purchase cannabis from Oklahoma dispensaries, Ahmad said. Cannabis is sold by the gram and prices for premium strains can range anywhere from $12 to $15 per gram and up to $100 for seven grams, which is a quarter of an ounce. Per Oklahoma state law, the products sold at The Releaf Center, as well as every other dispensary in the state, must have been grown or processed in the state of Oklahoma.

There are three kinds of licenses issued by the state in relation to the issue, Ahmad said. The first is a dispensary license, which is what Ahmad has, there is a growing license, which allows people to cultivate the plant, and lastly there is a processing license, which allows those who possess it to purchase crops from growers and create the concentrated forms.

The last time the city addressed the dispensary issue was during a board of trustees meeting on Dec. 17, 2018, where they reluctantly granted Ahmad an occupational license for the business. In the meeting, Ahmad was presented with a few criticisms from board members, such as board member Orval Wilkinson, who said that the claim that the substance is being used for medical reasons is disingenuous and that it will only adversely impact the youth of the community.

Ahmad said that he has personally never tried smoking the substance or even a cigarette, for that matter, but because it was voted for by the people of Oklahoma, that he doesn't think he should be viewed differently than any other business owner. He said that he has followed all of the necessary guidelines imposed by the state and truly believes that the drug does have medical benefits due to the things his customers have told him.

"People's opinions do matter and people have voted for it, literally," Ahmad said. "It was not something that was imposed by the legislature, it was a direct vote and people know better what is good for them and what is not. I'm sure many people have tried cannabis for years and years, and I'm sure some of them have found some benefits to it. ... I think most of the sentiment that it is not good or not as good as people think, is because the opioid companies have made it to where, a lot of people when they get on those they can't get off (of them).

"I have customers in here who swear by that they have been on the opioids for five, 15, 20 years and they were taking 10 to 12, 15 pills a day. They say to me that after smoking marijuana, that now they're completely off (of the opiods), within six months. I think it helps people, that's why they like it and that's why they chose it. ... Hopefully it becomes legal at the federal level and they'll have more research on it and more ability to prove one way or the other, that's the only way that can happen, when there is free ability to conduct research on the product.

"Yes, as long as people's opinions and their comments are based on knowledge and some kind of you know, background, it's okay. But just you know, if somebody doesn't like something and they make a comment about it and have a negative opinion about it, they should need to be able to say why they feel that way. I've lived here in West Siloam since '97, and I sat on the zoning board for about five years. I'm very familiar with all of the aspects of the city. Hopefully they'll accept it and not be so judgmental and give us a chance as a business. All those council (board of trustees) people I know them and they're good people, they just have their own opinions like the rest of us."

General News on 03/13/2019

Print Headline: First medical cannabis store opens in WSS

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