Arkansas is currently undergoing a major effort to legalize marijuana in the state. Unfortunately enthusiasm for the campaign may lead to more confusion and potential failure as 3 groups now passionately pursue the right for their bill to be included in the November ballot this year. Arkansas marijuana laws have been fairly restrictive until now although a poll from September 2015 indicates that 84 percent of Arkansas residents would vote to legalize the herb for medicinal benefits. Residents of the state were given the opportunity to vote on legalization in 2012 and very narrowly denied the option. This year, advocates hope to make legalization a reality in Arkansas.
The Choice Between 3 Bills
The main concern for this is that 3 different bills may confuse voters or even worse; split the vote so that no bill has the chance to pass. Arkansans for Compassionate Care, a campaign approved by former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, has already attained the needed amount of signatures to appear on November’s ballot. The campaign is for medical cannabis for qualifying patients that would allow for the possession of 2 and 1/2 ounces of marijuana and 10 plants, 5 mature and 5 immature. There is a strong focus within the petition that ensures that low income patients would have access to medical marijuana. There are also more conditions that would receive care under the rules of the Arkansans for Compassionate Care bill.
“Written for Patients, by Patients”
Melissa Fults is the campaign director of Arkansans for Compassionate Care. When asked what makes their petition different from the other medical marijuana proposal, she says “Ours is designed to protect the patients. We have an affordability clause for low-income patients, we have a hardship clause for those who are in out-lying areas to be able to grow 5 mature plants, and we have more qualifying conditions. Ours is written for patients, by patients, (the other proposal) is written for business, by businesses.”
Changing Arkansas Marijuana Laws
The Little Rock lawyer, David Couch, who is responsible for the other medical marijuana bill, has already collected almost half of the 84,859 signatures he’ll need to have by the July 8th deadline. He’s indicated that he’s not concerned about there being 2 medical marijuana measures in play. His focus is on changing Arkansas marijuana laws and getting the process for the legalization of medical cannabis under way. He explained, “I think that if the debate is about whether or not someone is sick and dying or has some sort of illness that marijuana can actually help with that and the doctor prescribes it, nobody has a problem with it.”
“Get it All Done at Once”
A third petition involves the legalization of recreational marijuana by the group Arkansas True Grass which is represented by Don Lane. He says “Why do we wanna’ settle for something? Let’s get what the people need, get everything that they need, get it all done at once and let’s not wait like Colorado and Washington and the rest of ’em.” To this point, David Couch responds, “You have to be realistic in your approach to politics and at this point in time there’s not the support in the state of Arkansas for that. So right now we’re trying to do what we can do, what the people of Arkansas do support.”
When Arkansas had the chance to vote in 2012, a conservative group called the Family Council campaigned against it. The group is now contacting the Ethics Commission to fight legalization again. They are joined by another group called the Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities. It is hard to comprehend why voters would refuse medical assistance for children and patients who are suffering from debilitating conditions that are known to be effectively treated by cannabis. At this point in time, with so many residents in favor of medical marijuana, it seems unlikely that Arkansas marijuana legislation will stay the same for long.