Gov. Hutchinson boosts push to oppose medical marijuana, supporter says message ‘offensive to sick and dying patients’

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 420 views 

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson held a press conference Monday (Sept. 12) to push his anti-medical marijuana message.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the state’s Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe on Monday (Sept. 12) dialed up their push to oppose the two medical marijuana amendments on the November ballot, with Bledsoe saying “Big Marijuana is simply Big Tobacco painted green.”

Hutchinson said during the event held at the State Capitol the “ballot initiatives brings more problems, does not solve the issue, and does not lead to good medical practice.”

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment would authorize up to 40 for-profit dispensaries and eight cultivation facilities and allow patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces for medical use. On the ballot, it will be listed as Issue 6.

Also on the ballot is the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, an initiated act where the dispensaries would be run by non-profits. Unlike the proposed amendment, it includes a provision allowing patients to grow their own marijuana if they live too far from a dispensary. The amendment lists about 14 ailments qualifying for use. The initiated act lists about 50.

Lawsuits have been filed against both amendments seeking to remove them from the ballot.

The Monday morning press conference gathered up not only Gov. Hutchinson and Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe, but other organizations represented at the anti-medical marijuana event included the Arkansas Medical Society; Arkansas Hospital Association; Family Physician Association; Pharmacy Association; University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Arkansas Children’s Hospital; Arkansas Center for Health Improvement; Arkansas Department of Health; and Arkansas Heart Hospital.

“We all want those who are ill or suffering to have the right kind of medicine, but there is a reason we have an FDA approval process for new medicines. We don’t vote on cancer cures and we should not set a new pattern of determining what is good medicine at the ballot box,” Gov. Hutchinson said in a statement.

Bledsoe continued what has been a consistent theme that not enough research is available to prove a net benefit with medical marijuana use. He pushed the theme further on Monday by pointing to research that shows increased motor vehicle accidents as a result of liberalized marijuana laws. He also said marijuana use is detrimental to the development of adolescents.

“These marijuana proposals are written with broad language that would open the floodgates for marijuana use in our communities. Individuals could obtain marijuana for diagnoses such as ADHD, insomnia, and migraine headaches, allow the growing of marijuana in and around our neighborhoods, and even provide marijuana for minors with parental consent. In addition, the language of these proposals would allow the selling of edible marijuana products in our state, products that have been packaged to appear like candy and sold in sodas, cookies, and brownies with cartoon marketing attractive to children,” Bledsoe noted.

Following are some of the “facts to know” presented at the press conference.
• In the U.S., a substance must complete FDA approval process to be considered medicine. Marijuana has not been FDA approved and, thus, is not a medicinal substance as unrefined plant product.

• Habitual adolescent users are at significant risk of permanent cognitive impairment.

• Proposed legislation for “medical” marijuana in Arkansas allows minors to receive it with  a parental  signature.

• 9% of those who experiment with marijuana will become addicted.

• One in six of those who use marijuana as teenagers become addicted, 25% to 50% of those who smoke marijuana daily become addicted.

Link here for a complete PDF of the “Why Marijuana Is Not Medicine” document.

Ryan Denham, deputy director of Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group behind the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, attended the Monday morning press conference and said it was “totally disheartening” to hear Bledsoe liken their cause to Big Tobacco.

“I was there and heard that and it was totally disheartening. I mean, we are just a group of volunteers. … Many of our volunteers, who were out collecting (petition) signatures, are sick and have been helped by medical cannabis, so it was frustrating to hear comments like that,” Denham said.

Denham also said it is disingenuous for Hutchinson and Bledsoe to suggest waiting for the FDA approval process because the federal government has for decades blocked full testing of all components in marijuana.

“It’s a catch 22, because they suggest that more research is needed, but marijuana is currently a Schedule 1 drug which significantly limits the type of research that can be started. So patients are left to wait and suffer,” Denham said.

Indeed, the rescheduling issue has become more heated in 2016. When federal authorities refused to reclassify marijuana or provide a timetable for consideration, a bipartisan group of U.S. House and Senate members began to lobby for reclassification.

“Currently, more than half of U.S. states have passed laws allowing medical use of the cannabis plant and 42 states allow the medical use of some substance derived from cannabis,” noted a June 30, 2016, letter from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg. “Yet, federal policies continue to hinder medical researchers’ ability to study the benefits of cannabis, particularly as a therapy for conditions which are resistant to other forms of treatment. The two greatest administrative barriers impeding scientists are the research restrictions created by the Schedule I classification of cannabis and the artificial limitation of a research supply.”

Denham said Arkansans for Compassionate Care is planning a press event “in a few weeks” in which they will provide more detail on their amendment and present testimony from Arkansas doctors who support medical marijuana. Denhan said 80 Arkansas doctors supported their 2012 effort to legalize medical marijuana. That amendment narrowly failed.

A June 2016 poll conducted by Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll indicated strong support among Arkansas voters for medical marijuana. Of the 751 likely voters surveyed, 58% support the use of medical marijuana, 34% oppose and 8% did not know.