Pubdate: Tue, 30 Aug 2016
Source: Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette (Fayetteville, AR)
Copyright: 2016 Northwest Arkansas Newspapers LLC.
Author: Brian Fanney


Democrats Add Plank for 2016

The backers of two competing medical marijuana initiatives found good 
news in their cause ending up on the platform of the Democratic Party 
of Arkansas.

Members of the party met Saturday to hear speeches and take care of 
business ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, including approving a 
platform. One of the planks is on medical marijuana.

The plank calls for "the development of a responsible medical 
marijuana program that will receive patients in need of such relief 
the freedom to access this remedy."

"It's an important step in our state's care of patients with certain 
critical illnesses," said party spokesman H.L. Moody. "There's a lot 
of evidence that shows sometimes that's the only thing that works. We 
think that if that is the case for patients, then that sort of 
treatment should be available to them legally."

The addition doesn't name either the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act or 
the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, two competing measures that 
differ in their approach.

Melissa Fults, campaign manager for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, 
said the addition to the state Democratic Party's platform goes 
further than the national party platform. She supports the Arkansas 
Medical Cannabis Act.

The national platform states in part: "Because of conflicting federal 
and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal 
government to remove marijuana from the list of 'Schedule 1' federal 
controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a 
reasoned pathway for future legalization. We believe that the states 
should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and 
those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to 
medical marijuana should be able to do so."

The state-level language will help her proposed initiated act, Fults said.

"I think there are a lot of candidates that have wanted to come out 
in support of medical cannabis and this gives them an incentive, or 
maybe more permission, to come out publicly in support," she said.

One such candidate is Conner Eldridge, a Democrat from Fayetteville 
who is challenging Republican John Boozman of Rogers for his U.S. 
Senate seat. Eldridge said Monday he supported the development of a 
responsible medical marijuana in Arkansas and nationally.

"I see no legitimate reason to deny access to marijuana for people 
like my stepmother, who passed away from a recurrence of breast 
cancer in 2010," he said in a statement. "As a prosecutor, I believe 
law enforcement resources ought to be directed to far more serious 
offenses, including large scale drug trafficking involving 
methamphetamine, heroin, prescription drugs, and cocaine."

David Couch, a Little Rock-based lawyer who backs the Arkansas 
Medical Marijuana Amendment, said he hopes the state party's stance 
will help more candidates show their support.

"Democrats of Arkansas need to differentiate themselves from the 
Republicans. We lost all these last elections because we've been 
running as Republican-lite," he said. "They take pre-K out; we put 
medical marijuana in. I'm liking where we're going."

On pre-kindergarten programs, Couch was referring to a decision by 
state Republicans earlier this month to remove any mention of pre-K 
programs from that party's platform.

He said many Republicans support medical marijuana. Other party 
platforms also touch on the subject.

No one from the Republican Party returned a call Monday seeking 
comment. However, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who formerly 
headed the Drug Enforcement Administration, has said he is opposed to 
medical marijuana.

The state Libertarian Party favors "the repeal of all laws creating 
'crimes' without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or 
recreational purposes," according to its platform. The state Green 
Party's platform states that the "marijuana laws are long overdue for repeal."

Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, who is against both the 
proposed act and the amendment, said there's common ground between 
his stance and the state Democratic Party's platform. Bledsoe was 
appointed by Hutchinson.

"I want a responsible medical marijuana program as well," he said. "I 
want the marijuana plant to be studied. I want to squeeze all the 
medicinal value we can out of that plant. I want the compounds that 
show promise to be sent through the FDA approval process and I want 
those things to be used to help patients."

Bledsoe said a responsible program would focus on research and could 
have specific allowances for people with terminal cancer or severe 
epilepsy, but the proposed measures are too broad.

"We want to be giving medicine to people that is truly medicine - 
that's safe and gone through the FDA approval process," he said. "I 
see this platform statement as very much in keeping where I stand on 
the issue."

The initiated act has qualified for the Nov. 8 ballot and is being 
challenged in court. The amendment backers are awaiting word from the 
secretary of state's office on whether they have enough valid 
signatures to qualify.

Couch worked with Arkansans for Compassionate Care on the proposed 
2012 medical-Marijuana measure that fell just short of approval by 
voters in that year's general election.

He and Fults later split over a "grow-your-own" provision, and they 
pursued separate proposals for this election year.

Under the proposed Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, 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.

Fults said the grow your own provision is essential to ensure 
affordability, but Couch said it hurt the efforts to legalize medical 
marijuana in 2012.

Another difference between Couch's amendment and Fults' initiated act 
is the number and type of marijuana facilities allowed.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment would provide for at least 
20 but not more than 40 dispensary licenses and at least four but not 
more than eight cultivation facility licenses. No owner, board member 
or officer would be able to own more than one dispensary or 
cultivation facility under the proposed amendment.

The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act would cap the number of cannabis 
care centers, which must be nonprofits, at one-twentieth the number 
of pharmacies that have obtained a pharmacy permit from the state 
Board of Pharmacy to operate within the state. There are 794 in-state 
retail pharmacies, according to the board, so there would be about a 
40-center limit.

If more nonprofit centers are "necessary to provide convenient access 
to Usable Cannabis by Qualifying Patients in all parts of the state," 
the state Department of Health may issue more registration 
certificates under the proposed act.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment would allow for intractable 
pain to be treated with marijuana. It is defined as "pain that has 
not responded to ordinary medications, treatment, or surgical 
measures for more than six (6) months," according to the amendment 
text. About 20 other qualifying conditions are also named in the text.

The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act would allow the use of marijuana 
for those with intractable pain, which is "pain that has not 
responded to ordinary medications, treatment, or surgical measures 
for more than three (3) months," according to the act. About 55 other 
qualifying conditions are also named in the text.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom