Tammy Calder is never sure if she’s going to be able to get out of bed on time in the morning. Degenerative disc disease, severe arthritis and fibromyalgia leave her in constant pain and she hasn’t been able to work in more than eight years. Calder, who lives in Huntsville (Madison County) on a limited income, uses medical marijuana to help with her medical conditions.
Thanks to discounts called compassionate care plans, she can afford it.
Calder shops at a dispensary called Acanza in Fayetteville, where she qualifies for a discount of 10% during the week and 20% on Sundays. Without the discount, Calder said, she would not be able to afford her medications. Calder prefers to shop at Acanza on Sunday mornings when the dispensary’s compassionate care patients receive a bigger discount and when the store’s lower-priced items are still in stock.
“That’s the importance of getting it on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. from Acanza, because I wouldn’t be able to get them [otherwise],” Calder said. “Absolutely not. Can barely afford it as it is.”
So what would Calder do if she didn’t have a discount program to offset the costs?
“I would have to go without,” she said.
Compassionate care plans, which vary by dispensary, offer discounts to different groups of patients, including people on limited incomes, veterans, seniors, children and employees. All of the state’s 32 operating dispensaries have a compassionate care plan, according to Medical Marijuana Commission spokesman Scott Hardin.
Dispensaries included their compassionate care plans in their original applications for a dispensary license and can update them once a year during the state Medical Marijuana Commission’s license renewal period in May and June. The plans, which may include discounts, promotions and coupons, are the only discounts dispensaries can offer.
The commission does not set limits on the minimums or maximums of the discounts or what groups can be offered discounts.
“Obviously, the product can’t be offered for free, but there aren’t any limitations on the discount itself,” Hardin said. “This is driven by the market and the dispensaries’ willingness to offer discounts and promotions.”
The plans are not available to the public and are not subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act because of an exemption in the law reserved for information that would provide a competitive advantage to other businesses. Some of the dispensaries provide the details on their plans on their websites, while others provide only an application form or no information at all.
“We’ve received FOIA requests for them in the past and many of the dispensaries claimed it would be a competitive advantage issue, but the discount is ultimately going to be made public [when it is made available to the patient],” Hardin said.
Bloom Medicinals of Texarkana is one of the dispensaries that advertises its compassionate care plan on its website. Bloom offers a 20% discount to veterans, a 20% discount to “indigent” customers and a 10% discount to seniors 55 years and older on every purchase.
Patients qualify for discounts by providing documents to the dispensary. Veterans can provide forms from a veterans office, while patients qualifying for the “indigent” discount can provide a copy of a Medicaid card or food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, according to Bloom assistant general manager Rhonda Scott.
Thanks to the Texarkana VA Clinic on the Arkansas side of the border and the Red River Army Depot on the Texas side, Scott said Texarkana has a large population of retired veterans who use medicinal cannabis and take advantage of the dispensary’s discount program.
Scott says some low-income patients need the dispensary’s discount in order to afford medical marijuana.
“For some it makes a difference,” Scott said. “Every dollar adds up. For some patients, that 20% off makes the difference in them being able to participate in the medical program and be able to get that medication.”
Bloom also offers daily specials, including a 20% discount on regularly priced edibles on what they call “Medible Monday.”
Enlightened Cannabis for People offers a variety of discounts at its dispensaries in Arkadelphia, Clarksville, Heber Springs and Morrilton. Like many dispensaries, Enlightened offers a discount to veterans (10% off) and patients who receive Social Security Disability Insurance payments (10% off), but the Enlightened dispensaries also offer a 10% discount to patients under 18 years old.
“Often, pediatric medical cannabis patients are burdened by massive costs for other medications they require,” Dusty Shroyer, who manages all Enlightened’s Arkansas stores, said via email. “Given our deep commitment to equitable access to medical cannabis, Enlightened strives to ensure these patients receive this effective medication at an affordable price.”
Arkansas Natural Products in Clinton offers discounts to seniors, veterans and low-income patients. Seniors get 10% off, veterans get 20% off and patients on Social Security Disability Insurance get 20% off. The store’s “Compassion Discount” provides 20% off to low-income patients on a case-by-case basis. Patients can provide their most recent tax return or an award letter from the Department of Human Services when applying for that program, according to the store’s website.
The store also offers 10% off a new customer’s entire first purchase and has a loyalty program in which customers receive points that can be redeemed for discounts.
The dispensary also offers a daily special in which the store discounts a product each day, shift manager Justin Smith said.
“That way everybody gets a little bit of the sale treatment,” Smith said.
While the dispensary has a variety of discounts, not every customer qualifies, so the store tries to make items available at a variety of pricing levels.
“Cannabis is such a natural, holistic medicine. It’s hard to put a price tag on that,” Smith said.