COTTON PLANT, Ark. — Mayor Willard C. Ryland looked everywhere for salvation for his dying town. He tried luring a vegetable packing company. An Asian carp processor. A Dollar General store. But he struck out again and again.
Then came marijuana — and hope.
Arkansas voters decided in 2016 to legalize the plant for medical use, giving the state an opportunity both to develop a new industry and to address nagging social problems. The state’s licensing program encourages legal marijuana growers to set up shop where the new jobs are needed most, in perennially poor communities.
Mr. Ryland, 63, is a teetotaler and regular churchgoer who was raised on a farm and never got caught up in the wilder side of the 1960s. But when a start-up company called Bold Team approached him about investing in his town, it hardly bothered him that they wanted to grow what President Ronald Reagan once declared to be “probably the most dangerous drug in the United States.”
The mayor has had a hard time seeing the downside. “I consider it a miracle, I really do,” he said. “This is what we’ve been looking for. And what’s remarkable about it is that they came and found us.”
The fact that…