Pubdate: Fri, 08 Jul 2016
Source: Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette (Fayetteville, AR)
Copyright: 2016 Northwest Arkansas Newspapers LLC.
Author: Brian Fanney, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


An initiated act aimed at legalizing medical marijuana has been 
cleared for the Nov. 8 general election ballot, but the proposal 
faces opposition from three fronts - the backer of a competing 
constitutional amendment, a conservative organization and the governor.

The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act received enough valid signatures to 
appear on the ballot, Melissa Fults, campaign manager for Arkansans 
for Compassionate Care, said in an interview Thursday. Kerry Baldwin, 
a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, confirmed that the 
group did meet the signature threshold. It is the first initiated 
proposal to clear that hurdle; today is the deadline for submitting 
petitions for a general election ballot proposal.

In an interview, Fults said she planned to spend Thursday 
celebrating, but she also repeated a call for David Couch, a Little 
Rock lawyer, to withdraw his Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment. If 
both proposals appear on the ballot, both will fail, she said.

"We're not going to give up," Fults said. "We're going to continue to fight."

As the news spread Thursday, Jerry Cox, executive director of the 
Arkansas Family Council Action Committee, vowed to oppose both 
medical-marijuana measures. In an interview, he said his group will 
verify petitions, consider making a legal challenge and campaign 
against both proposals.

"If we have to battle David and Jerry, we're going to be fighting on 
two fronts, but the upside is we don't back down, we're not afraid to 
fight," Fults said. "We have 1,000 volunteers on top of that. You 
can't buy loyalty."

At a news conference, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he also opposed the measure.

"I believe that while we want to provide medicine to anyone who needs 
it, this opens up a lot of doors that causes more problems than it 
solves," said Hutchinson, a former director of the U.S. Drug 
Enforcement Administration, U.S. attorney and federal homeland 
security undersecretary. "And we do want to continue to listen to the 
medical community as what is good medicine and not, so I challenge 
them to speak up.

"Any efforts in relation to voter education and reference to 
opposition should be from the medical community, from physicians. 
Those are trusted voices that the people of Arkansas would listen to. 
I have asked the surgeon general [Greg Bledsoe] to be a lead 
spokesperson in reference to those initiatives and articulating any 
concerns that he has from a physician standpoint."

Fults' group, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, submitted petitions 
bearing about 117,000 signatures on June 20. Since then, about 40 
temporary workers and about 10 secretary of state office workers have 
been checking those signatures in the Victory Building in Little Rock.

The group needed 67,887 valid signatures from a variety of counties. 
Fults said 77,516 signatures were deemed valid.

Arkansans for Compassionate Care was one of several groups vying for 
inclusion on the November ballot. Today is the deadline for 
submitting petitions. By late Thursday, no other groups had submitted 

But Couch - who backs the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment - said 
he isn't backing down. He plans to deliver more 100,000 signatures to 
the secretary of state's office today. Proposed amendments need 
84,859 valid signatures to get on the ballot.

If voters approve two conflicting ballot measures, the one with more 
votes would become law, Chris Powell, spokesman for the secretary of 
state's office, has said.

Baldwin said she also expected petitions to be submitted today on 
proposed constitutional amendments - one to limit attorney fees and 
noneconomic damages in medical lawsuits and the other to allow three 
privately run casinos to open in Boone, Miller and Washington counties.

Couch said he rented a moving van to carry his petition boxes.

"Look at the poll Talk Business did in September of last year. 
Eighty-four percent of people support medical marijuana. Forty-four 
percent support grow-your-own. That's consistent with every poll I've 
ever done," Couch said. "They're trying to strong-arm me into taking 
mine off the ballot so they hope they can get over 50 percent. I 
don't think they will, but if I'm on the ballot, it's hard to beat 84 percent."

Like Cox, Couch said he is considering a lawsuit against Arkansans 
for Compassionate Care. But Couch said he won't be surprised if Cox 
sues him as well.

"I fully expect him to sue me for ballot title. He did in 2012 and 
that's why I didn't change my proposal very much. When he sued me in 
2012, I won, so I feel like I've got a little bit of insurance," he 
said. "That's the way it works. If he went out and collected 
signatures on some amendment that I didn't like, I'd sue Jerry."

Cox said the Arkansas Supreme Court now has members who might rule 
differently. His argument - that marijuana is not medicine - has not 
changed, he said.

Fults said Couch should just team up with her.

"For somebody to destroy this just because they can, it just is 
heartbreaking," she said.

Couch worked with Fults on a proposed 2012 medical-marijuana measure 
that fell just short of approval by voters. After the election, the 
two split over a "grow-your-own" provision, and they pursued separate 
proposals for this election year.

Under Fults' proposal, a patient with a "Hardship Cultivation 
Certificate" would be allowed to grow up to 10 cannabis plants - five 
mature plants and five seedlings - 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.

The proposal is there to ensure affordability, Fults said.

"This is not about the grow your own," she said. The hardship clause 
will reach a small portion of people."

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

Cox made a similar argument.

"This measure will allow most people to grow their own marijuana at 
home," he said.

However, Couch's proposal "starts to look and smell like a monopoly," Cox said.

"A small handful of wealthy people would control the marijuana trade 
in Arkansas," he said of the proposed amendment.

Couch's 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 Division of the Department of Finance and 
Administration would inspect the dispensaries.

"You know what, you can say this is Jerry Cox's fault because in 2012 
he said Arkansas is going to be just like Colorado and there's going 
to be a dispensary on every corner," Couch said. "And so now there's 
a limited number of dispensaries."

Arkansans United for Medical Marijuana, formed by Couch, has raised 
$105,000. It is funded entirely by the Bevans Family Limited 
Partnership, according to its latest campaign-finance report. The 
partnership's address matches that of Lake Liquor in Maumelle.

Arkansans for Compassionate Care has raised $125,850. 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.

The group has raised $53,350 from donations of less than $1,000 - 
more than all other ballot question committees combined.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom