Today, Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin certified the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act has enough signatures to be on the November 6 General Election ballot. The proposal needed a minimum of 62,507 signatures from registered voters to qualify.
"Compassionate Care is an important issue for thousands of Arkansans and their families. This is something the people of Arkansas want to discuss. We've always been a leader in the South and now we're the first one to put medical marijuana on the ballot and have a real discussion about it," said Melissa Fults, Treasurer for Arkansans for Compassionate Care.
If voters approve the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, Arkansas will join 17 other states and Washington D.C. in allowing doctors to write recommendations for marijuana to alleviate specified medical conditions. The Arkansas Act is largely based on the medical marijuana law in Maine that passed in 2009 and has become one of the nation's most successful.
The Arkansas Act lists 15 specific chronic or life-threatening medical conditions for which marijuana could be recommended by a doctor: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Tourette Syndrome, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia and Alzheimer's.
Only patients authorized by the Arkansas Department of Health would be allowed to purchase, carry and consume marijuana. The Act limits the number of dispensaries statewide and requires all of them to be non-profit. Cities and counties that choose to do so would be allowed to ban dispensaries altogether.
Meanwhile, the conservative group Arkansas Family Council reacted to the news with a long statement as follows:
"This proposal violates federal law," Cox said. "Marijuana is illegal. This proposal admits that states do not have the ability to change that law, and says, 'This act also acknowledges that marijuana use, possession, and distribution for any purpose remain illegal under Federal law.' Federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents frequently bust medical marijuana operations in states where they exist, such as California. Putting Arkansas in the middle of all of this just doesn't make sense. Why would we want to pass a law that blatantly violates federal law? Why would we invite that kind of turmoil to Arkansas?"
Cox also said he believed the measure is vaguely worded. "I believe a lot of people who signed this petition probably did not fully understand the scope of this measure. Among other things, it says that if a 'patient' lives more than five miles from a marijuana dispensary, they are free to grow their own marijuana. In other words, if you live in west Little Rock and the nearest dispensary is in downtown Little Rock, you can grow marijuana in your flower garden, and there isn't a thing anyone can do about it.
"Most of the people who signed this petition probably did not know that. They probably envisioned doctors and pharmacists being heavily involved in the prescription process. The people dispensing marijuana under this measure are not held to the same standards as pharmacists dispensing medicine. Petition signers probably did not know that either, and they probably were not even aware that the measure is entirely illegal under federal law. If it's enacted, I think a lot of Arkansans will find the law on the books is not the one they thought they were voting for."
Cox pointed out that easing restrictions on illegal drugs isn't in the best interest of families. "Substance abuse creates very real problems for families," Cox said. "If a husband or wife is addicted to something, it's going to put a strain on that marriage. It's going to put a strain on their kids. If you think we have problems with marijuana now, just wait until it becomes legally available."
Cox said, "This law leaves way too many questions unanswered. How are we going to be sure medical marijuana grown in Arkansas isn't sold illegally to people without a prescription? I've read marijuana can be cultivated with varying levels of active ingredients in it much the same way nicotine levels can be manipulated in tobacco. How are they going to keep marijuana growers from using that to make their product more potent or addictive?"
Cox also questioned the use of medical marijuana to treat illness. "It's the only medicine you smoke. The health community has spent almost fifty years trying to stop smoking. Now a group of people wants Arkansas doctors to start encouraging just that: Smoking for your health. It just doesn't make sense."
Cox said that if the medical community is serious about pursuing any health benefits of marijuana, it should lobby Congress and the DEA to alter its regulations. "The opium plant is restricted differently because even though it carries a high risk of abuse, it has some known medical uses. If doctors believe marijuana may have health benefits, they should lobby Congress to apply the same restrictions to marijuana as they do to opium. That would be the legal way to do this. Instead Arkansans are being asked to vote on a measure that is patently illegal under federal laws passed by Congress. That simply is not right."
Cox indicated that Family Council Action Committee is reviewing all of its options for fighting this proposal, including a possible legal challenge.
Original story (August 13):
Medical marijuana advocates are getting a second shot at getting their proposal before Arkansas voters this November.
Activists on Monday afternoon turned in 74,406 signatures in 19 boxes of petitions to the Arkansas Secretary of State's office. This summer activists fell 26,000 short of the 62,507 valid signatures they need.
Melissa Fults, one of the effort's organizers, says she's "Pretty confident" voters will approve medical marijuana if it gets on the ballot. But it might not be so easy.
"The biggest obstacle is getting people educated...this is a compassionate campaign, it is for the patients who need it desperately," Fults said.
Advocates say medical marijuana is necessary to provide cancer patients and those in chronic pain with relief. Opponents believe marijuana is a gateway drug.
Alex Reed, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office, said he estimates it will take staffers about two weeks to review the petitions and validate the signatures.