Pubdate: Thu, 23 Aug 2012
Source: Sentinel-Record, The (AR)
Copyright: 2012 Associated Press
Author: Andrew Demillo


LITTLE ROCK - Election officials on Wednesday approved placing a 
proposal to legalize medical marijuana on the November ballot, as 
supporters aimed to make Arkansas the first southern state to approve 
the drug for some conditions.

The secretary of state's office said Arkansans for Compassionate Care 
turned in enough signatures to qualify the proposed initiated act for 
the November ballot. The proposal needed at least 62,507 signatures 
from registered voters to qualify. The secretary of state's office 
said it had verified more than 69,000 signatures from the group.

The group fell short in the number of signatures needed last month, 
but it was given additional time to circulate petitions.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical 
marijuana in some form, and backers said they hoped to make Arkansas 
the first southern state to approve the use of the drug for some 
medical conditions.

"I don't think Arkansans are any different from those other states," 
said Ryan Denham, the group's campaign director. "This campaign comes 
down to compassion. It's about never letting someone choose between 
suffering and breaking the law again. We're building up some momentum."

The proposal would allow Arkansans with qualifying conditions to 
purchase marijuana from nonprofit dispensaries with a doctor's 
recommendation. Qualifying conditions include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, 
AIDS and Alzheimer's disease. The proposal also would allow 
qualifying patients or a designated caregiver to grow marijuana if 
the patient lives more than five miles away from a dispensary.

The proposal acknowledges that marijuana is illegal under federal law.

No group has organized yet to campaign against the measure, but many 
of the state's top elected officials have said they're opposed to 
legalizing marijuana. The Arkansas Family Council, a conservative 
group, immediately said it was considering challenging the legality 
of the measure in court.

"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?" Jerry Cox, the council's president, said in a statement 
released by his group. "Why would we invite that kind of turmoil to Arkansas?"

Medical marijuana advocates said placing the measure on the ballot in 
a southern state like Arkansas could expand support for the issue 
beyond traditional areas that have backed legalization efforts.

"Arkansas would absolutely stand out as a state that would help fill 
in this map," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the 
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom