Skip to main content

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Initiative Heads for Finish Line [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #753)
Politics & Advocacy

Medical marijuana has made great inroads in parts of the United States. With the exceptions of Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming, the West is medical marijuana country. The Northeast is also trending that way, with Massachusetts looking likely to join the ranks come election day, while Michigan represents medical marijuana's first acceptance in the Midwest.

The South remains the last region of the country without a medical marijuana state, but that could well change on November 6, when voters in Arkansas will have the chance to approve a medical marijuana initiative there.

Sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act (Issue 5 on the ballot) would allow patients suffering from a specified list of diseases and conditions to use and possess marijuana on a doctor's recommendation after registering with the state Health Department. Patients would obtain marijuana from state-regulated non-profit dispensaries. Only those patients living more than five miles from a dispensary could grow their own or have a caregiver grow it for them, and they would be limited to six plants per patient.

The campaign is counting on the compassion of Arkansans to bring it to victory in November and is highlighting the plight of patients like Emily Williams, a Fayetteville wife and mother diagnosed with lymphoma in 2010. Williams underwent extensive chemotherapy, resulting in extreme nausea, headaches, and general lethargy. She was unable to eat, drink, or take any medications because of the side effects, and anti-nausea agents her doctors prescribed didn't help.

"I had an intravenous medication, a pill, a patch, and a tablet which dissolved under my tongue, but none of them changed any of my symptoms," she said, explaining how she reluctantly turned to medical marijuana. "I knew I was putting my family at risk. We could have been arrested or lost our property, but I was dying and nothing else was working."

Medical marijuana worked. "Within 10 minutes, my headache was gone, my nerves were relaxed, the pain in my body was gone, and the nausea was totally gone, it totally disappeared," she said. "It allowed me to live a normal life. I was able to eat dinner with my family, and to be more active."

But the risk from marijuana's illegality was too much for Williams. She refused to use it during her last round of chemotherapy because of fears for her family, and paid a price. The anti-nausea drugs still didn't work, she lost ten pounds in a week, and her recovery was unnecessarily prolonged.

"Marijuana helped me live a normal life during my battle with cancer, but it was too risky," she explained. "I was offered marijuana during my last treatment, but I couldn't bring myself to put my family in jeopardy. I would have recovered much more quickly. I would have been able to eat, sleep, and continue through my treatment without struggling as much. Patients shouldn't suffer because of the law. Why can't there be some other possibility?"

cancer patient Emily Williams (
The campaign is counting on stories like Williams' to turn a neck-and-neck race into a victory on November 6. The only recent poll on the initiative, a Talk Business-Hendrix College poll in July, had it eking out a one-point lead at 47% to 46%, with 7% undecided, but the campaign said it thought support had only increased since then.

"I suspect that number has changed quite a bit," said campaign strategist Chris Kell. "Once we got the signatures, we also got a phenomenal amount of attention, and it's hard to say no to the stories of these patients. Now, people are hearing about the initiative, they're visiting the web site, and we're going to be tugging pretty heavy at their heartstrings."

It's all out for the final push to victory now, he said.

"We've overcome so many hurdles, we're really excited, and we're ready to take this campaign to the ground," Kell exclaimed. "The response so far has been very favorable, and I'm confident we can get this thing passed in November. We hope to be a model for all the other Southern states."

The final hurdle overcome was a lawsuit filed by the social conservative Arkansas Family Council Action Committee that sought to keep the measure off the ballot by challenging the ballot language. The state Supreme Court rejected that effort last week.

"This is about legalizing marijuana," Family Council Action Committee head Jerry Cox told the Ozarks Times in August when the challenge was filed. "It's just a matter of legalizing it in degrees. I think you'd find, if you asked around, that a lot of the same folks who support this support total legalization of marijuana for any purpose. I believe their real agenda is to have marijuana be as legally available as tobacco."

The Marijuana Policy Project contributed money to help gather the signatures to get the measure on the ballot and helped with the court challenge, but the campaign is now looking for more money to get some advertising on the airwaves before the election.

"All the money we were expecting from various folks got tied up with that lawsuit," Kell explained. "Nobody wanted to give money until they were sure it was actually on the ballot. Now that it is, we will have an effort to raise enough money so that we can hopefully have a paid media campaign in the last week."

If they do manage a paid media campaign, it looks like it will be the only one. Aside from the Family Council, organized opposition is scarce.

"We haven't seen any real law enforcement opposition yet, and some on the ground will tell us quietly they are for it, that they don't want to have to arrest people who have small amounts for medicinal purposes," said Kell. "The only organized opposition even on a minor level is coming from people who benefit from keeping this illegal, treatment centers and that kind of thing."

Kell wasn't too worried about the family values crowd and its use of the bully pulpit to encourage "no" votes.

"We're not really all that concerned with them," he said. "When you go into that voting booth, that's a private deal. You can have a faith leader tell you one thing, but you can still vote your conscience. Plus, we have our own clergy getting the word out, and if you have any compassion at all, it's hard to say no."

Arkansas is generally considered a conservative state, but that's not completely true, Kell said, noting that it had elected and reelected liberal Bill Clinton governor, then followed that up by electing social conservative Mike Huckabee as his replacement.

"Arkansas is a strange state politically," he said. "We've been getting as much help from the conservative side as from the liberals. People could cross party lines to vote for this in large numbers. The voters here are pretty pragmatic and well-informed when they vote. I think they will vote for compassion."

In little more than a month, we will see if Arkansas will lead the South toward the medical marijuana promised land.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Jeff Brown (not verified)

For those Christians opposed to medical marijuana I say if you believe the Bible, God made marijuana. Marijuana aka cannabis is defined as a tall Asiatic herb and has been used for healing and spiritual insight for thousands of years. When you take into account all its commercial applications, food, paper, clothing, energy, etc it is undoubtably the most useful plant on the planet. More lies have been told about this beneficial herb then anything I can think of. It is not the devils weed. For more info. google Marijuana and the Bible by Jeff Brown

Thu, 10/04/2012 - 11:59am Permalink
Indica Jones (not verified)

Marihuana has been legal longer than its been illegal. Fact. It was legal in Jesus's days and before he came to earth. Only for 75 years  has it been illegal. In that time we have been able to pollute our waters, air, and land. Salmon that can't be eaten down from the old Reynold's plant on the Colombian River in Oregon. The widespread use of bottled water is an indicator of how well we have been able to avoid poisoning ground water. Our politicians have passed legislation to hold harmless those companies that are "super fracking" , which I'm sure your children and grandchildren will thank you in the future. In Michigan where your told you should only eat one fish a month due to contamination from Corporations.  My fellow Americans we live in a Fascist Government. Where Corporations buy politicians that write the laws. Laws that eliminate any and all competition. All the medicine that you buy from the store or pharmacy is synthetic. Your God didn't make your body to consume artificial substances. Just look at the side effects of any of the meds that you now take.

Also the argument of comparing marihuana with the two most widely used drugs(alcohol and tobacco) is completely preposterous. Alcohol kills 85,000 people a year in U.S./ Tobacco kills 400,000 people in the U.S. Marihuana has killed zero people in over 4,000 years. Watch the movie 'Clearing the Smoke: The Science of Cannabis'. Now which one would you legalize?

Sun, 10/07/2012 - 10:36am Permalink
Giordano (not verified)

Americans have no patience with mixing politics and medicine and there is going to be none of that.

Our American medical profession is the best the world has ever known.  Our only purpose is to help that profession, never to harass it.

– President Lyndon Baines Johnson, August 18, 1964, Quotations from Chairman LBJ, page 140.

Mon, 10/08/2012 - 2:18am Permalink


“Millions of Massachusetts residents would potentially be eligible for medical marijuana under Question 3,” boasts a Colorado attorney who’s opened a new office here in Boston looking to profit from November’s vote.  His web site states that the catchall phrase in the proposed law “other conditions” allows for maladies including “chronic pain and mental conditions – such as anxiety and depression”.  Coming from Colorado, he would know.  Currently there are over 100,000 medical marijuana cardholders in Colorado.  95% of them were issued for maladies in the “other condition” category.

While medical marijuana in other states has helped attorneys like this generate huge profits, citizens are experiencing buyers’ remorse.  Just this summer, Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to shut down all pot dispensaries in the city because of increased crime, violence, addiction, and neighborhood decay they are causing.  A co-author of the original medical marijuana ballot measure in California now says:  "Most of the dispensaries.... are little more than dope dealers with store fronts".  

Proponents say if passed, Ballot Question 3 would be the tightest, safest medical marijuana law in the country, but a look at the six-page bill proves otherwise.  The proposal would allow 35 marijuana retail stores in the first year and more would be allowed in future years – there is no limit to the number of stores in the law.  In 1996 Los Angeles began with a few dozen too, but ballooned to over 900 in a decade.  In Denver, pot shops outnumber McDonalds and Starbucks combined!

In the law, marijuana cards will have no expiration date, undefined dosing limits, no minimum age, and no requirement for parental consent.  Put this all together and it means any child could get a medical marijuana card for a self-diagnosed pain, and have a life-time membership to a pot store without his or her parents knowing. 

Cardholders will be able to have an undefined two-month supply of marijuana on their person or transport it in their car.  An ounce of marijuana is roughly 100 joints. A 60-day supply in the State of Washington is 24 ounces plus 15 marijuana plants.  According to these numbers Ballot Question 3 would allow a person to carry over 2400 joints at a time - that’s a lot of pot! Given the black market value of the drug and the current economic times, that amount practically begs an individual to sell it for personal, illicit profit.  And this is what we’re seeing in Colorado.  In Denver this year, 74% of teens in treatment for addiction report getting their marijuana supply from a medical marijuana card holder an average of 50 times.  And research shows that those who become marijuana dependent during adolescence and continue to adulthood have an 8-point drop in IQ. For context, that puts a person of average intelligence into the lowest third of the IQ range.

Question 3 allows anyone over the age of 21 with no special training or medical qualifications to own and operate a pot store.  It also allows for anyone over the age of 21 to grow marijuana even if they are a convicted drug felon.  Under Question 3 these non-profit dispensaries would not be subject to property or sales tax no matter how much money they bring in even if their operators are making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.  In California pot stores can bring in over $20 million annually in cash sales. 

Our under-funded Department of Public Health would be mandated to create and manage the mini-drug enforcement agency needed to regulate this big business industry.  Yet with no tax revenue collected, this becomes another unfunded mandate for the state of Massachusetts.

We know what is happening in other medical marijuana states and Ballot Question 3 is the MOST UNRESTRICTIVE law this side of California.  Massachusetts would be the only state other than California that gives a single physician the sole discretion to determine what conditions should be treated with medical marijuana.  And there’s no limit on the number of recommendations a single physician can make.  It is this leniency that has drawn out the worst in doctors in other states.  In one case in Oregon a single doctor signed 35% of all medical marijuana card recommendations in one year, amounting to an average of 29 per day at $200 per signature.

Some people say, let's pass this law and then fix it if it doesn't work.  What they don’t know is that the severability clause included in Section 17makes it virtually impossible to repeal if it does not work out well for the Commonwealth.   Using the advantage of severability language, the newly enriched medical marijuana trade makes it expensive and difficult to amend passed ballot referendums.  We've learned this from other states including neighboring Rhode Island, where an attempt by their Department of Public Health to tighten up their medical marijuana law was met by a lawsuit filed by the ACLU - a group funded by drug legalization interest groups.

On November 6, 2012, by voting No on Question 3 we are not closing the door to our chronically ill in Massachusetts; instead we are simply saying this is not the right law for what we would like to accomplish with compassionate care.

Sun, 10/28/2012 - 9:06pm Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.