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First Medical Marijuana Public Hearing Quiet, Quick

Bobby Ampezzan
Arkansas Public Media

Fewer than a dozen speakers piped up at the Arkansas Department of Health’s first public hearing today, and the whole affair — advertised around the state and referrenced often on social media — finished in about 40 minutes.

Several speakers voiced concern that the health department was overreaching for quality control through proposed batch sampling and laboratory testing thresholds, and that such a regulatory structure was hindering the rollout of the therapy, and promises to pass those costs on to the patients. 

"The bottom line is if we regulate this to the point where it costs so much that people can't afford it, people might as well have not voted for it. You defeat the whole purpose, and you're going to drive people back to the streets and to the black market," said former Supreme Court Justice Paul Danielson.

Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media
Storm Nolan of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association

Storm Nolan of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association said $50 for a registry card is too much relative to the entry fee to purchase pharmaceuticals — that is, nothing.

Robert Brech, lawyer for the department who alone fielded the comments, said other pharmaceuticals have the Federal Drug Administration. Marijuana doesn't, and so it's up to the state health department.

No one was more inquisitive than Deborah Beuerman. She asked if she could make cannabidiol oil at home, if a designated caregiver could also be a patient, if there will be limits on how potent (how much tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)) a serving may be sold, and how come they're "servings" when other drugs are "doses?"

Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media
Department counsel Robert Brech speaks with Deborah Beuerman of Little Rock.

Afterward, Brech said he was a little surprised by the few number of comments. If anyone did point out a glaring omission in the department’s plans, it would force a new draft phase and new public comment period.

The deadline for the health department’s final regulatory plan is early May, and Brech expects to hit that mark, but he repeated his prediction that the state is many months away from available marijuana. He also reminded the crowd that the federal government at any time could shut the program down. It’s illegal, after all.

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