The war over medicinal marijuana is heating up, just three weeks before voters have their say on whether it should be legal in Arkansas. It is arguably one of the most controversial items on the ballot this November. Just last year, a federal report was released, showing there are no medical benefits to marijuana and it should remain classified as a dangerous drug. But advocates are convinced otherwise. Organizers with Arkansans for Compassionate Care say a TV commercial running in the state with images of gun wielding, zombie like smokers and marijuana retail stores are completely distorted.
David Couch is the attorney for the organizations. He says, “You’re not going to see walk in pharmacies like you see in California.” According to the measure, the state can legally have 30 dispensaries in the 15 most populous counties. Like a wet or dry county, communities can vote to keep the green out. If you live more than a 5 mile radius from a dispensary, you can apply to grow. That means you can have 6 plants and no more than 2.5 ounces of dry bud. “Because the way this act is set up it really doesn’t legalize marijuana. What it does is it says if you qualify for a medicinal marijuana card. It’s an affirmative defense to the crime of possession of marijuana,” Couch says.
He continues, “You have to grow it indoors in an enclosed locked, secure facility that only you have access to.” Opponents argue there are other, safer, legal ways to treat chronic illnesses than to give people access to marijuana, no matter how strict you try and make it. Unlike many states that have passed the law, Arkansas would be nonprofit, any extra money would go to charity to provide marijuana for people who have been approved but can’t afford it. “A dispensary is going to be nothing more than a pharmacy,” Couch explains.
The Arkansas Department of Health will regulate the entire medicinal marijuana program from the issued card to licensing; they’ll oversee the dispensaries and inspections. A recent Hendrix College poll of 868 Arkansans shows 54% of those voters are opposed, 38% are in support of the measure and 8% are undecided. Couch concludes, “I’m sure that if you call 800 people today, depending on which 800 you get, you’ll get a different swing in the poll.”
If passed, Arkansas would be the first southern state to legalize medicinal use of the drug. It is still a federal offense but the Department of Justice has taken the position basically to stand down if people are in clear compliance with the state law. The Arkansas Sheriff’s Association, Anti-drug agencies, Arkansas Pharmacist Association and Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police are against the measure.
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