Pubdate: Tue, 21 Jun 2016
Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock, AR)
Copyright: 2016 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.
Note: Accepts letters to the editor from Arkansas residents only
Author: Brian Fanney


Rx Push for Ballot 1st With Signatures

Backers of an initiated act to legalize medical marijuana became the 
first group this year to submit signatures for a ballot proposal when 
they delivered petitions to the Arkansas secretary of state's office Monday.

The petitions, bearing about 117,000 signatures, were submitted 
almost three weeks ahead of the July 8 state deadline. The next step 
is for validation by the secretary of state's office; 67,887 
signatures from at least 15 different counties are needed for an 
initiated act to land on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

During a news conference, Melissa Fults, campaign manager for 
Arkansans for Compassionate Care, told about 75 supporters that their 
work had made the achievement possible. Standing behind dozens of 
boxes filled with signatures sheets, she called out David Couch, a 
Little Rock-based attorney, who is sponsoring a rival proposal - a 
constitutional amendment - that would also legalize medical 
marijuana. A third proposed amendment would legalize all use of marijuana.

"Placing another cannabis proposal on the ballot will absolutely 
cause both to fail and the sick and dying patients of Arkansas cannot 
afford to lose this battle," Fults said. "This is too critical."

Couch said he is "absolutely not" dropping out.

"I don't accept her notion that if both get on the ballot, both 
fail," he said. "If you support medical marijuana, just vote for both of them."

He said he's collected about 50,000 signatures that have been 
validated through a third party. He needs 84,859 valid signatures for 
his constitutional amendment to make the ballot.

Immediately after Arkansans for Compassionate Care's news conference, 
Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council Action Committee, 
and Larry Page, executive director of the Arkansas Committee for 
Ethics Policy, held a news conference of their own to decry the 
ballot measures from both Fults and Couch.

Cox said the medical-marijuana proposals are back doors for 
recreational use. He also decried a grow-your-own provision in the 
Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, the proposal offered by Arkansans for 
Compassionate Care.

"This issue was the main concern that voters had in 2012 when this 
same measure was defeated by the people of Arkansas," Cox said. 
"They've left that in there - that's one of the most egregious parts 
of this measure."

The grow-your-own provision was why Fults and Couch split after the 
2012 election, when they worked together on the 2012 
medical-marijuana measure that fell just short of approval by voters.

Under Fults' proposal, a patient with a "Hardship Cultivation 
Certificate" would be allowed to grow up to 10 cannabis plants in an 
enclosed, locked facility. A caregiver would be allowed to cultivate 
the plants.

The hardship certificates would be provided by the Arkansas 
Department of Health "based on documentation of the Qualifying 
Patient's lack of access to a Nonprofit Cannabis Care Center," 
according to the proposal. Nonprofit centers would serve as dispensaries.

Couch has said the state is not ready for the grow-yourown provision. 
He said his proposal focuses on security.

His proposed amendment does not specify how dispensaries can be run, 
but it would limit the number to 40 in the state. The Alcoholic 
Beverage Control agency of the Department of Finance and 
Administration would inspect the dispensaries.

Regardless of the specific provisions in the law, Page said smoked 
marijuana is not medicine.

"The fact that a substance might block pain does not of itself make 
that a medicine," he said. "So smoked marijuana is clearly not 
medicine. You can't measure a dosage. What do you do, smoke two 
joints and call me in the morning?"

But supporters of the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act said marijuana is 
useful - and in some cases essential - medicine.

Emily Williams, a cancer survivor, said chemotherapy left her unable 
to keep food down and in incredible pain. Anti-nausea medicines had 
no effect on her.

So "people who loved me very much brought to me illegal, street 
marijuana," Williams said.

She smoked the marijuana and 15 minutes later, she said, she felt much better.

"I thanked those benefactors who love me. I walked upstairs with no 
nausea, no pain. I showered, I went to bed and I slept," Williams 
said. "That sounds so incredibly mundane, but it was such an 
incredible relief."

Tamara Langley-Higdon, a volunteer with Arkansans for Compassionate 
Care, said she was just 15 when she broke her back and injured her 
spinal cord. She now uses a wheelchair.

Despite her injuries, she said she received a bachelor's degree, 
served on the Governor's Commission on People With Disabilities and 
was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Arkansas 2006.

She takes 21 prescription pills per day, but said 17 of them could be 
replaced with medical marijuana.

"There is no way to convey what that could possibly mean for me and 
for so many others throughout the states," she said. "Give me my life back."

Cox said that if cannabis can help patients, it needs to be delivered 
in a method outside of smoking that does not make people high. He 
said he isn't opposed to a measure that allows medical use of a 
cannabis-derived drug that contains little to no THC.

He provided a list of marijuana-related incidents, including fatal 
car crashes where marijuana was cited as a factor.

He said the list of illnesses for which marijuana could be given - 
which includes anxiety and pain - are easily faked.

Cox also criticized the funding for both measures.

Arkansans for Compassionate Care has raised $125,850, according to 
its latest financial report. It received $25,000 from the Drug Policy 
Alliance; $25,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project; and $12,500 from 
New Approaches Political Action Committee. The group has been 
fundraising since 2014 and has taken in between $800 and $37,961 per month.

Though about half the money has come from New York and Washington, 
D.C., the group's fundraising effort sells T-shirts, flags, banners 
and bumper stickers locally, Fults said.

Arkansans United for Medical Marijuana, which was formed by Couch and 
is backing the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, has raised 
$105,000, according to its latest financial report. It's funded 
entirely by the Bevans Family Limited Partnership. The partnership's 
address matches that of Lake Liquor in Maumelle.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom