First two medical marijuana-related bills roll out of committee

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 230 views 

The first two pieces of legislation related to the state’s newly passed Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment passed the House Rules Committee Wednesday (Jan. 11), including one extending the time for rulemaking.

House Bill 1026 by Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, would extend rulemaking deadlines to 180 days from the Nov. 8 election for the Department of Health, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, and the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission. The amendment allows 120 days.

The change would extend the deadline from March 9 to May 8. Both passed with no debate, no opposition and no one speaking about the subject from the audience.

Approved by voters in November, the amendment can be amended with a two-thirds vote by the Legislature. The extended time is needed to comply with the state’s Administrative Procedure Act, which includes a public comment period, as well as a required legislative review, House said.

The Department of Health must create rules for marijuana labeling and testing standards, for registry identification cards given to patients, and for designated caregivers. The commission is writing rules for licensing dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Division oversees those facilities and writes rules regarding the manufacturing and distribution of the drug. The bill also would extend the date for when the commission begins accepting dispensary and cultivation applications from the current June 1 until July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.

House Bill 1058, also by House, strikes a phrase in the amendment requiring physicians to provide written certification that the potential health benefits of a patient using marijuana would outweigh the risks. Doctors would still be required to certify in writing that the patient has a qualifying medical condition. House told committee members that there is no medical standard for marijuana medical use, so requiring doctors to certify that rewards outweigh risks subjects them to liability concerns and discourages many from prescribing the drug. He said medical malpractice lawyers have told physicians not to sign such a letter.

“What conversations that physician may choose to have with her patient, that’s between her and her patient. (The) state is not going to dictate that conversation, which essentially we’re doing,” he told reporters afterward.

The bill also would clarify that an application for a registry identification card is not a medical record, but it is still exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Dispensary records also would be confidential and exempt from the act.

House said making the information part of a medical record would put various people dealing with the information at risk of violating federal HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy laws, including police officers and Department of Health employees.

Attorney David Couch, the amendment’s sponsor, said he did not have a problem with either bill. Regarding House Bill 1026 giving more time for rule making, he said, “I think it is a good idea. I don’t believe it to be a stalling tactic. If you’ve been at marijuana commission meetings, you can see they need the extra 60 days.”

House has three other bills that are in the process of being amended and will be introduced next week. House Bill 1049 would clarify the types of “felony of violence” that would exclude someone from receiving a cultivation or dispensary license. House Bill 1051 would add a licensure procedure for transporters, distributors and processors. House Bill 1057 would add criminal background check procedures.

Still to come is the appropriation legislation, which will need to create funds for the first year of operation until sales taxes can be generated from the sale of marijuana.

House has said that about 135 issues have been identified that must be addressed legislatively or through the regulatory process. His five bills along with the appropriation bill will address many of them, he said.