Members of the law enforcement community Wednesday (Oct. 19) expressed their opposition to two measures on the November ballot that would legalize medical marijuana, with the president of the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association saying patients aren’t being prosecuted and the sponsor of one of the measures disputing that statement.
Chuck Graham, prosecuting attorney for the 23rd Judicial District, said in a press conference on the State Capitol steps that prosecutors are charged with doing justice and do not make it a practice of prosecuting individuals using marijuana for medical purposes.
“Nobody’s kicking their door down if they have marijuana, going after those folks. That’s just not happening,” he said.
Graham later told reporters he has never prosecuted such a case. He said during the press conference prosecutors “see the damage that is done by marijuana every single day.” He said cases he’s prosecuted where a home has methamphetamine or heroin always have housed marijuana.
Melissa Fults, sponsor of one of the measures, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, acknowledged that a patient who is simply using marijuana probably wouldn’t be prosecuted. But she cited one case where a cancer patient in the Newport area was imprisoned for growing three plants. She said patients would rather grow their own plants rather than buy them from a drug dealer on the black market not knowing how they’ve been grown and whether it’s the strain they need.
Voters this election season will decide on two medical marijuana issues. Issue 6 is the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, while Issue 7 is the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. Both would legalize medical marijuana, but in different ways. Issue 6 would be a constitutional amendment while Issue 7 would be a statute – the amendment setting a higher legal standard. They both list medical conditions that would qualify; the act lists more. The amendment would allow marijuana to be distributed through for-profit dispensaries, while the act’s dispensaries would be non-profits. Only the act allows individuals living 20 miles from a dispensary to grow their own marijuana. If both pass, the one with the most votes becomes law.
The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act is still the subject of a lawsuit the Court will decide soon.
THE GUMMY BEAR PROBLEM
During the press conference, Arkansas State Police Chief Bill Bryant said use of marijuana results in impaired driving and said marijuana edibles aren’t regulated and could be accidentally consumed by children. He said passage would require the ASP to train more drug recommendation experts, add criminal investigators and train them to dismantle and disrupt growing operations.
Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane spoke on behalf of the Arkansas Association of Chiefs Police, saying his group had unanimously voted Sept. 29 to oppose the measures. He said the state has ranked high for prescription drug abuse and meth use.
“If this passes, I don’t know if I can tell the difference between a real Gummy Bear and a marijuana-infused Gummy Bear, and unfortunately your children and grandchildren won’t know the difference either,” he said.
Fults said patients will store medical marijuana edibles where patients can’t reach them just as they store other drugs. She said her own daughter at the age of 2 had constructed a stairstep out of her chest of drawers in order to reach some Children’s Tylenol stored out of her reach.
“I cannot even conceive of a parent leaving an edible or any kind of medication lying around for a child to get,” she said. “Do children manage to get them somehow sometimes? Yes, unfortunately. But like I said, they can also get a hold of Tylenol, which can destroy their liver.”
State Crime Lab Director Kermit Channell said the laboratory doesn’t have the testing equipment, personnel, or space to test for marijuana, and passage would slow investigations, affecting victims of violent crime. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said the state is compassionate, but the care should be provided through conventional means.
‘DON’T BUY THE BIG LIE’
David Couch, sponsor of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, said, “It does not surprise me that law enforcement will come out against this. Law enforcement and big pharma have teamed up for years to stop research into the benefits of this medicine and to keep it as a schedule 1 drug.”
The conference came as Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana, the group organizing the press conference, released a new ad airing in all media markets. In the ad, the state’s surgeon general, Dr. Greg Bledsoe, acknowledges that marijuana does contain compounds that might be useful for patients with seizures, but he says marijuana use is drug abuse while making the case that the proposals will lead to recreational use.
“Get the law right, and many of us will support it. Until then, don’t buy the big lie,” he says in the ad.
Couch responded by saying, “It’s nice to hear the surgeon general acknowledge that marijuana is medicine. We believe that Issue 6 is the right law, and it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road. Sick people and children need this medicine now.”
In other news, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group supporting the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, a voter initiated act that would legalize medical marijuana, reported raising $2,013 from 67 donors during the month of September, including t-shirt sales of $125. The largest donor gave $250. The group has raised $162,800.43 as of Sept. 30 and has spent $151,844.15.
Arkansans United for Medical Marijuana, the group supporting the amendment, did not report any activity.