A Fayetteville-based group has taken one big step toward legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes only, bringing the measure to popular vote in the November general election.
Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACC), the proposed law’s sponsor, began its campaign to collect the needed 62,507 signatures from registered voters after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel certified the initiative in April last year. Ryan Denham, campaign manager for ACC, said after doubling the amount of signatures needed for the measure to appear on the ballot, he expects Arkansans to vote the law allowing medicinal use of marijuana into law.
“I think Arkansans are going to make the compassionate choice like voters did in 17 other states,” he said. “I think Arkansans understand people should never have to make the choice between breaking Arkansas laws or continuing to suffer.”
He said the law calls for marijuana, also referred to as cannabis, to be available by prescription only to people with certain health conditions.
The conditions allowed use of medicinal marijuana as laid out in the law are “cancer, glaucoma, positive status for Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS), Hepatitis C, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Tourette’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Fibromyalgia, agitation of Alzheimer’s Disease or the treatment of … A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following: cachexia or Wasting Syndrome; peripheral neuropathy; intractable pain, which is pain that has not responded to ordinary medications, treatment or surgical measures for more than 6 months; severe nausea; seizures, including those characteristic of Epilepsy; or severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of Multiple Sclerosis.”
Denham said it’s not uncommon for doctors to recommend the use of marijuana for patients in applicable situations, but they can’t legally tell their patients where or how to use it.
If approved, the law will allow for up to 30 medical marijuana dispensaries to be located throughout the state. Denham said cities and counties will be allowed to ban the dispensaries, if their government officials vote to do so.
In the case of a dispensary not being readily accessible to a patient prescribed marijuana, they will be allowed to grow up to six plants for personal use. If they’re unable to grow their own plants or choose not to, they may choose to hire a caregiver, who is required to be registered with the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) to grow the plants for them. The caregiver, as described in the bill, would be allowed to grow for up to five patients at a time.
Only patients with a medical marijuana card will be allowed to purchase the drug. The marijuana will also be unavailable to felons.
While Marinol — a medication that contains Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a common ingredient in marijuana that induces hunger — is available by prescription in Arkansas, Denham said he doesn’t think it’s as effective as the actual plant, and that if passed, different variants of medical marijuana will be available to treat different conditions.
Denham added he doesn’t think passage of the law will contribute to the illegal recreational use of the drug.
“This campaign is solely about medicinal marijuana and helping out sick and dying patients. Anything can be abused but I think we’ve created a very sound law that’s very regulated,” he said. “I don’t see this as a stepping stone toward [the legalization of recreational use of marijuana].”
Marcie Shinn, who works at 2nd Chance Trading Post, a local shop in Russellville that displayed a petition for medicinal marijuana’s legalization for shoppers to sign, said the store received “tremendous” feedback from its visitors, garnishing several signatures from a variety of people, ranging from doctors to teachers.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of support,” she said. “We had the petitions here gathering signatures and a lot of people wanted to remain anonymous, but I’ve had doctors come in, I’ve had teachers, and I had a lot of people from the medical profession because they’ve seen the reports that show where the use of marijuana helps to stop or prevent cancer.”
Shinn, a Type II diabetic who said she experiences pain on a consistent basis in connection with her diabetes, as well as two back surgeries, said she hopes current studies into marijuana’s effect on diabetics results in additional treatment for her pain. She added that she’s in support of medicinal marijuana because she feels it provides more benefits than doctor-prescribed narcotics.
“People are really tired of taking narcotic drugs that are prescribed by doctors and having so many side effects, and that the side effects in most cases can be worse than what they originally started taking the medication for,” she said. “I’m diabetic, so I have a lot of neuropathy pain on top of the back surgeries I’ve had, so I live in constant pain, and I’d be totally wiped out if I took all the medications the doctor told me to take. There’s just no way I could do it.”
“Voters should support this because patients who have medical conditions who need this should not be people who are being arrested for seeking out an alternative means of treating their symptoms, whatever they may be.”
To learn more about ACC, visit www.arcompassion.org. Early voting for the general election will begin on Oct. 22. Election Day is Nov. 6.