After several attempts in previous years to get on the Arkansas ballot, supporters of legalizing medical marijuana found success in 2012 — a feat considering it was a difficult year for citizen-led ballot initiatives. No other effort won ballot approval.
Although the measure is coming to a vote, the hurdle it faces is a tall one. The idea of legalizing marijuana is not a natural fit in a Bible Belt state such as Arkansas. The word medical in front of it gives it a little better standing.
A Talk Business poll over the summer showed the state is evenly split on the issue: 47 percent in support and 46 percent against. Support may lie in how much voters focus on the word marijuana vs. medical.
So, what will the measure actually do? According to sponsors, it will allow Arkansas patients, with a doctor’s recommendation, to use marijuana for serious debilitating medical conditions. Patients will be able to purchase their marijuana at a regulated not-for-profit dispensary.
That sounds simple. However, it gets complicated quickly. If passed, it would open 30 “not-for-profit dispensaries” around the state that would sell marijuana to those who have been diagnosed with a chronic condition. The proposal lists 15 conditions ranging from HIV to cancer to chronic pain. Chronic pain seems a broad category. The act also would allow someone with any of those conditions or their caregivers to grow their own marijuana if they live more than five miles from a dispensary.
Several faith-based groups have begun organizing against the measure.
“The AMMA, or medical pot initiative, is bad law based on bad science and driven by bad motives,” said Larry Page with the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council in an email to supporters.
Page explains that the law would be difficult to enforce and could lead to a much broader legalization of marijuana than supporters claim. He also points out that the major medical groups – such as the American Medical Association, the Federal Drug Administration and the American Cancer Society – have not approved or endorsed the smoking of marijuana for medical purposes. The Arkansas Pharmacists’ Association came out against the measure this week.
Political leaders, including Gov. Mike Beebe, have expressed concern regarding difficulty in setting up regulations for the new law. Beebe said he plans to vote against the proposal but likely will not campaign against it.
One interesting note is that even the ballot title admits “that marijuana use, possession, and distribution for any purpose remain illegal under federal law” even if the new state law is passed. So, if it is still illegal, why even bother passing the law at the state level?
The answer may lie in who is putting up the money. According the filings of the backers — Arkansans for Compassionate Care — the vast majority of funding comes from the Washington D.C. based Marijuana Policy Project, which has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign.
This group’s vision statement says it can “envision a nation where marijuana is legally regulated similarly to alcohol.” The group is organized not only to support narrowly tailored measures, which is how it labels the Arkansas initiative, but also for the full legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use.
“Marijuana prohibition has failed. It’s time for a new approach, and MPP is leading the way,” boosts the group’s website.
No matter the advertising message over the next few weeks, this measure is not about compassionate care. It is about the pro-marijuana group’s effort to pass some sort of state law in a Bible Belt state as part of its national efforts to legalize marijuana, Anyone opposing such efforts should vote against the medical marijuana act.
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Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com