Medical marijuana director: ‘Uphill battle’ to get enough signatures

by The City Wire staff ( 15 views 

Two marijuana questions are now seeking signatures to appear on the November ballot in Arkansas, but at least one of the leaders involved in the pro-medical marijuana movement thinks legalized weed is not going anywhere in November.

David Couch, co-chair of the pro-medical marijuana group Arkansans for Responsible Medicine and an attorney, said he pulled his group's ballot questions from consideration because he said 2014 was not the year grass could pass.

"I pulled it down about a month ago or two months ago because the people who want to fund it would rather fund it for 2016 because it is a presidential election year and turnout will be higher," he said. "Political science says it never passes in non-presidential (election years)."

He said even if he changes his mind and decides to pursue a ballot question this year, it was already too late since he had missed the deadline to publish the ballot questions in a local newspaper 30 days prior to tentative approval of a ballot by the attorney general's office.

One group that is pursuing medical marijuana on the ballot this year is Arkansans for Compassionate Care, which came close to getting medical marijuana legalized in 2012.

ACC Campaign Director Melissa Fults said even if though it would likely be a challenge, her group would keep working on collecting the 62,507 signatures needed to get the item back on the ballot this year. But it is going to be an uphill battle, she admitted.

"We're still gathering signatures. We still have a ways to go, but there's still a chance we'll make it (by the July 7 deadline to qualify for the November ballot)," she said. "It's still strictly volunteers after work and on weekends (collecting signatures), and the weekends have not been kind to us."

She said the weather has not been cooperative and the public, it appears, is starting to be less and less cooperative. Fults said the push back her canvassers have faced in many communities across the state has been a result of another marijuana issue looking to get on the ballot.

The “Arkansas Hemp and Cannabis Amendment” would allow for the “cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, sale, possession and use of the cannabis plant” and products derived from it, Talk Business reported June 4.

The amendment must collect more than 78,000 valid signatures to appear on the ballot because it is a constitutional amendment. And it is the group's attempt to collect signatures that is causing a problem for ACC, Fults said.

"I'll be real honest, it will hurt us. We asked him (Robert Reed of Dennard, Ark.) not to do it. People immediately think… he has a name so close to us. People are confused. They think we're going for full legalization."

She said ACC is wanting to only allow regulated medical marijuana to be sold in the state with a prescription, while she accused Reed's amendment of going all out for recreational marijuana. Another telephone number or e-mail address could not be located for Reed to comment in this story.

"I don't think Arkansas is ready for full legalization," Fults said. "Number two, Robert has nothing in there at all to protect the patient. If full legalization comes in, patients will have to pay sales tax on it just like everybody else. In Colorado, they put a clause in full legalization to still keep protections for patients."

She said patient protections include various prescription strengths of marijuana, along with pesticide-free weed and no sales tax on weed purchases. Fults said of her and Reed, "We both want the same thing, for people to be allowed to use the product, but mine is strictly to help patients. His if for everybody to get it. Personally, I don't care if somebody does it recreationally, but not at the expense of the patient."

With the medical marijuana proposals, Couch said voters should not expect to see either on this year's ballot.

"No, I don't believe you will. They're doing good with 30,000 or 35,000 (signatures) if you give them a liberal number, but they've got 30 days (to collect the remaining signatures)."