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Medical Marijuana Leader: Smoking, Eating Bans Would 'Cripple' Nascent Program

Bobby Ampezzan
Arkansas Public Media

A host of bills have been filed in the 91st General Assembly that direct Arkansas’s voter-approved medical marijuana program in small and moderate ways, but two senate bills would prohibit smoking, eating or drinking medical marijuana products. Monday, the smoking ban failed a Senate floor vote by 14 votes, 10-15, but it could come up again.

The Medical Marijuana Amendment, Issue 6 on the ballot Nov. 8, passed with better than 53% support.

Arkansas Public Media spoke to the amendment’s author Monday afternoon just before the Senate floor vote. Little Rock attorney David Couch specializes in nursing home litigation and regulation.

We began with the legislation banning smoking and ingesting marijuana, sponsored by Republicans Jason Rapert (Bigelow) and Gary Stubblefield (Branch) in the Senate, and House Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs).

"They’re both totally unneccessary and would probably cripple the mm program. I mean, if you can’t ingest it and you can’t smoke it, that leaves very little ways to use medical marijuana and probably would run afowl of the amendment itself."

Couch said he wrote the amendment with an eye toward giving the General Assembly the ability "to change some of the provisions, some regulations," but not to functionally eliminate marijuana use.

"If even one of [the bills] passed, there's a really good argument that that is unconstitutional and something the General Assembly doesn’t have power to do."

He pointed out that, with respect to the smoking ban, the amendment already largely restricts users to home-use. Even tenants can't smoke medical marijuana if prohibited by a property owner.

Asked what's surprised him most of the legislative roll out of the program to date, he said the cooperation of most legislators and the governor who, prior to Nov. 8, were firmly and outspokenly opposed to medical marijuana in the state. 

"They were vocal opponent of this amendment, but when 55 percent of people" — the Secretary of State says it's 53.11 percent — "said they were for it, most of them manned up, or woman-ed up, and are doing what the people of the state of Arkansas wanted them to do."

Asked about the five-member, appointed Medical Marijuana Commission's job so far: "The only criticism I have ... and its not of the process ... I do not like the lottery at all, and basically what they have now is a lottery for dispensaries, and they pull a number and you go up and try to prove that you're worthy of getting a dispensary license."

"I think that it should be merit-based like it is on the cultivation facilities."

If you look at the other states that have done more of a lottery, it tends to slow the process down and subject it to litigation. ... It’s not a liquor store that you’re just going to pull a business model off of. You have to have, you know, you want the most meritorious people to have the licenses."

The Commission was advised that the lottery was, in fact, a way to sidestep litigation stemming from suits claiming that meritorious selection alone showed institutional favoritism to entities with the most money and influence.

To date, the five cultivation licenses won't be awarded through any kind of luck of the draw, according to the draft rules and regulations written by the Department of Finance and Administration at the Commission's direction.

Arkansas Public Media has reached out to Senators Rapert and Stubblefield for a response and will bring you that interview when it can be arranged.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

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