After 53% of Arkansas voters approved the state’s Medical Marijuana Amendment in November, legislators passed 24 laws that changed it. But none severely restricted the availability of the drug, said David Couch, sponsor of the amendment.
“They did some crazy things, but it wasn’t anything that would affect the overall stability or the overall ability to get medicine, marijuana to the patients,” he said.
All of the laws passed required a two-thirds vote under the terms of the amendment. Fifteen of the laws were sponsored by Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, who was tasked as the point man on medical marijuana legislation prior to this year’s legislative session by Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia.
Several laws did limit how the drug can be used and who can use it. Among those were two sponsored by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs. Act 740 prohibits the smoking of marijuana in any place where smoking tobacco is prohibited, in the presence of a child under age 14 or a pregnant woman, in a motor vehicle, and in a place where it could affect a person not authorized to use marijuana. It also bans anyone under age 21 from smoking medical marijuana. Lundstrum’s Act 1023 prohibits dispensaries from using vending machines and prohibits marijuana use at dispensaries and cultivation facilities. It requires all packaging at dispensaries and cultivation facilities to be childproof. It also limits food or drink combined with marijuana to contain no more than 10 milligrams of active tetrahydrocannbinol, the chemical causing most of the drug’s psychological efforts.
Other limiting bills include Act 640 by Rep. House, which banned advertising, marketing, packaging, and promotions that would appeal to children, including artwork, building signage and product design. Act 1935 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, allows a public school to prevent students from attending school or school events if it believes the student is impaired by medical marijuana. Act 479 by Rep. Trevor Drown, R-Dover, banned members of the Arkansas National Guard or the United States military from being qualifying patients or designated caregivers and banned the use of the drug on property controlled by the National Guard or the military.
Act 593 by Rep. Carlton Wing, R-North Little Rock, included a range of protections for employers. Among its provisions were that it specified that employers are not prohibited from implementing substance abuse or drug-free workplace policies, including drug testing. The law says employers do not face a cause of action if they act on a good faith belief that an employee used marijuana during work hours or on the employer’s premises, or if the employer excludes the employee from a safety sensitive position because the employee was using marijuana. Employers can reassign, suspend or terminate employees or refuse to hire them.
Wider efforts at restricting access fell flat in a Legislature that was reluctant to overturn the results of the election. Senate Bill 238 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, would have delayed the legalization of medical marijuana in Arkansas until it was legal in the United States. The bill failed in the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor for lack of a motion. Senate Bill 357 by Rapert would have prohibited the smoking of marijuana anywhere in Arkansas, but failed twice in the Senate, and then senators declined to expunge the vote the second time. Senate Bill 333 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, would have made it illegal for anyone except qualifying patients and designated caregivers to combine marijuana with food and drink. It also failed in the Senate.
An important law passed early in the session was Act 5 by House, which removed the amendment’s requirement that physicians certify that the benefits of the drug for qualifying patients potentially outweighed the risks. The bill was signed into law Jan. 24 after House argued that the original language would have left many physicians unwilling to prescribe the drug because there is no accepted medical standard regarding marijuana’s efficacy.
Among the other laws passed were:
• Act 4 by House, which extended the deadline for the state to develop rules from 120 days to 180 days, and extended the time for the Medical Marijuana Commission to accept applications for cultivation facilities and dispensaries from June 1 to July 1 to match the beginning of the fiscal year.
• Act 638 by House, which made the Medical Marijuana Commission part of the Department of Finance and Administration. The commission is responsible for licensure of dispensaries and cultivation facilities. Act 906 by House appropriated more than $4 million for the commission for fiscal year 2018.
• Act 642 by House, which created a licensure process for transporters, distributors and processors in addition to the cultivation facilities and dispensaries that were included in the amendment.
• Act 670 by House, which specified that funds received through the amendment would be credited to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Implementation and Operations Fund. Any remaining amounts would be transferred to the general revenue fund account rather than a list of several funds and agencies that were specified in the original amendment.
• Act 1022 by House, which allows cultivation facilities and dispensaries to import seeds, cuttings, clones and plants.
• Act 1024 by Clint Penzo, R-Springdale, which requires dispensaries to appoint licensed pharmacists accessible during operating hours.
• Act 1098 by House, which adds a 4% tax to be levied by cultivation facilities, dispensaries, and other marijuana businesses.