Polls show Issue 6, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, to be close and advocates and opponents say they are prepared for either outcome and plan to work together regardless of the result.
Appearing on this week’s Talk Business & Politics TV show, David Couch and Dr. Greg Bledsoe outlined their closing arguments in support and opposition to the proposal. Bledsoe, the state’s surgeon general, is against Issue 6, while Couch, who has been driving the medical marijuana amendment, is a strong advocate. Couch said the 2016 version of medical marijuana is an improvement from the 2012 ballot issue that narrowly failed.
“In 2012, we came so close. During that debate and between 2012 and 2016, we listened to the people of the state of Arkansas. We made changes from 2012 to address all the concerns. We took out the ‘grow your own,’ we have a limited number of [medical] conditions, and a limited regulatory scheme that is in place,” Couch said.
“It’s to get medicine to people that we believe need it,” he added.
“The fact of the matter is this isn’t about patient care, this isn’t about medicine. Marijuana is not medicine. There are compounds within the plant that can help some patients, but marijuana the plant shouldn’t be thought of as a medicine,” he said.
“Ultimately, this is about money. It’s about people with deep pockets who are out of state and are set up to profit off the backs of Arkansans,” said Bledsoe.
If Issue 6 passes, Couch said cultivation and dispensary facilities have to be owned by Arkansans. According to industry statistics, the legal marijuana industry is a $7 billion economy in the U.S. If all 50 states were to legalize it in some form, it could reach $40 billion, according to Bledsoe.
Despite passionate arguments from both sides on this issue, Bledsoe and Couch said they have maintained a professional respect for each other and plan to work together regardless of the outcome on November 8.
“There’s so much vitriol in our political discussion these days. Look at the national picture and it looks like people hate each other who are on each side,” Bledsoe said. “What this has taught me, and what this has illustrated, is that you don’t have to be disagreeable in order to disagree. David and I get along very well; we just look at this issue differently. I think it’s a good example of how we should approach our politics.”
“Win or lose, either way, if 6 passes I will make it as good or as better than it can be. And if 6 loses, they have a bill and I will work with them to make that bill as good as it can be. We think the end result is going to be helpful for the state of Arkansas,” said Couch.
Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, and other lawmakers who oppose Issue 6, have proposed an alternative bill that will allow for much more restrictive uses of medical marijuana that utilizes high concentrates of CBD [Cannabidiol], which is is the component of the drug that calms seizures.
“I would sit down with David and others and try to come up with a bill that is reasonable, safe and helps patients in the future,” Bledsoe promised Couch, who said if the ballot measure fails he may bring it up for a vote again in four years.
Both men were also asked if medical marijuana or legalized marijuana would inevitably become the law in Arkansas or the U.S. Couch said it was “inevitable that policies will change” based on younger voters support for the issue. Bledsoe said it was “likely, but not inevitable.”
Watch their full interview below.