BY MELANIE BUCK –
Arkansas voters will have seven issues listed on the ballot come November 8th. Two issues, Issue 6 and 7, will address the legalization and dispensing of marijuana for medical purposes. Both were placed on the ballot through petitions and have garnered strong opposition from the governor, as well as locally by Polk County Sheriff-Elect Scott Sawyer and Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner who have both been very vocal in their opposition.
Governor Hutchinson issued the following statement: “As you know, I have expressed my opposition to the two marijuana ballot initiatives based on a number of concerns, but today [September 12, 2016], the focus is on the primary concern. The initiatives do not lead to good medical practice and is not best for patients. Those who stand with me today are in the medical profession because they care and they want the best for their patients. If there is new medicine or a new product to alleviate suffering they want it available.
“We all want those who are ill or suffering to have the right kind of medicine, but there is a reason we have an FDA approval process for new medicines. We don’t vote on cancer cures and we should not set a new pattern of determining what is good medicine at the ballot box.”
Arkansas Surgeon General, Dr. Greg Bledsoe, issued the following statement: “If you like Big Tobacco, you’ll love Big Marijuana, because Big Marijuana is simply Big Tobacco painted green. The data coming out of other states that have legalized marijuana have shown that it increases motor vehicle crashes and fatalities, causes dependency in 1 out of 6 adolescents who use it, increases the risk of psychiatric disease among those with predispositions towards them, and reduces cognitive ability and brain function in adolescents. In fact, current research is showing that for adolescents who use at least once a week, these cognitive deficits are permanent, even if they stop using marijuana at a later time.
“These marijuana proposals are written with broad language that would open the floodgates for marijuana use in our communities. Individuals could obtain marijuana for diagnoses such as ADHD, insomnia, and migraine headaches, allow the growing of marijuana in and around our neighborhoods, and even provide marijuana for minors with parental consent. In addition, the language of these proposals would allow the selling of edible marijuana products in our state, products that have been packaged to appear like candy and sold in sodas, cookies, and brownies with cartoon marketing attractive to children.
“Because of all these reasons, my colleagues and I cannot support the current marijuana proposals that will be on the ballot in November. To do so would not be in keeping with the best of modern medicine, and a violation of our Hippocratic oath to ‘first do no harm.’ We love and respect our patients and their families too much to tell them anything but the truth.”
While the two issues have drawn opposition, there is significant support for the measures.
Arkansans for Compassionate Care are supporters of the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, or Issue . On their website, they said: “Cannabis is a medicinal plant with dozens of peer-reviewed studies demonstrating its many uses. It is non-toxic, non-addictive, and works when all other medicines fail. Cannabis may be ingested via pills, ointments, tinctures, edible foods, and via vaporization or smoking. Patients suffering with HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cancer and chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and other illnesses find that cannabis relieves their symptoms—sometimes when nothing else will.”
Arkansans for Compassionate Care also said on their website: “A 2005 national survey of physicians found that 73% approve of cannabis use to alleviate symptoms such as chronic fatigue, nausea, and pain commonly associated with AIDS, cancer and glaucoma; and 76% approve of state laws allowing the use of cannabis to alleviate chronic fatigue and pain. After analyzing existing data on cannabis’s therapeutic uses, the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine concluded in a 1999 report funded by the White House drug policy office that “there are some limited circumstances in which we recommend smoking cannabis for medical uses.”
“The American College of Physicians, American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, American Academy of HIV Medicine, Lymphoma Foundation of America, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and many other medical institutions support safe and legal access to medical cannabis for patients whose doctors recommend it.”
In detail, Issue 6 is the The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016. The issue is a proposal to legalize medical marijuana, create a Medical Marijuana Commission, and place no limit on the cost for patient card fees. More specifically, Issue 6 would: set a cap on the fee required to acquire a dispensary or cultivation license, but no limit on the cost for patient card fees; establish a Medical Marijuana Commission; dictate that the state’s Department of Health must set rules for patient cards and medical conditions that qualify a patient for medical marijuana use; dictate that the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control establish operating rules for dispensaries and cultivators; and require sales tax revenue to be divided up in the following way: 10% to the medical marijuana program; 10% to the Skills Development Fund; 30% to the state’s General Fund; and 50% to the state’s Vocational and Technical Training Special Revenue Fund.
Issue 6 would also create an amendment to the Arkansas State Constitution as an “initiated constitutional amendment,” which is created by allowing citizens to initiate legislation through the petition process. Supporters of Issue 6 presented 72,309 signatures in July, which allowed them 30 days more to collect the rest of the required signatures. The group turned in 35,000 more signatures in August 2016, giving them enough petitioners to have the amendment added to the ballot.
Issue 7 also deals with medical marijuana but differs from Issue 6 in several ways. Instead of being an amendment to the state’s constitution, it is an Act, or an initiated state statute. The official title is the Medical Cannabis Act. An initiative statute is a new law that is adopted by a state through the petition process. There are differences between an initiated state statute and an initiated constitutional amendment, although they are not always clearly distinguished, and often both are referred to as simply “initiatives” or “propositions.”
With Issue 7, medical marijuana would: set a cap on the fees required to get dispensary and cultivation licenses and the fees required for patient cards; dictates that the Arkansas Department of Health must set rules for patient cards, medical conditions that qualify a patient for medical marijuana use, and operating rules for dispensaries and cultivators; permit some patients, who live more than 20 miles from the nearest dispensary, to grow their own marijuana for medical purposes and create a payment system for low income patients to afford their medication; patients would be required to obtain a prescription from an Arkansas physician as well as an ADH identification card; requires that all sales tax revenue goes back into the medical marijuana program; and thirty-eight medical marijuana dispensaries were specified in the full text of the initiative, but the ADH would retain the authority to increase that number.