Two Medical Marijuana Petitions Gathering Signatures in Arkansas

Two Medical Marijuana Petitions Gathering Signatures in Arkansas
Courtesy Photo Citizens sign the petition for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act.

Courtesy Photo
Citizens sign the petition for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act.

Last week Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge approved a new medical marijuana proposal, rousing many supporters of medical marijuana for a chance to get an initiative on the ballot for a state amendment in November.

Numerous people in social media were celebrating the news of Rutledge finally approving a medical marijuana petition, after rejecting multiple others. However, another medical marijuana initiative was already approved over a year ago by former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.

In regards to funding and organization, there are several differences between the two medical marijuana campaigns, so let’s break it down. The new proposal is called the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (AMMA) and the preexisting, grassroots initiative is the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act (AMCA).

The AMCA campaign is run by a grassroots organization called Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACC), which has a proven track record of success. In 2012, ACC gathered the required number of signatures and became the first southern state to make the ballot, and lost by less than 2 percent. Although it failed to pass, it was still regarded as a progressive moment for Arkansas. The narrow results showed that a state in the Bible belt was very divided on the issue and almost voted in favor of it.

In the fall of 2014, McDaniel approved the new proposal by ACC, and since then, more than 57,000 signatures have been gathered by grassroots volunteers all throughout the state. In order to make the ballot, the Secretary of State requires about 68,000 validated signatures by July 8.

So last week, the new AMMA proposal was just approved to be petitioned to be on the ballot in November. Their petition campaign just started, so there are little to no signatures reported. Since the AMMA proposal is a Constitutional Amendment, 86,000 validated signatures are required by the July 8 deadline.

So, how can this new campaign hope to gather an even greater number of signatures in four short months? As is too often the answer in American politics: money.

The AMMA has financial backing from a few corporations, business owners and wealthy donors who have pledged their support for seeing the ballot initiative succeed. The leader of the AMMA effort, David Couch, has stated that he has “initial commitments of $1.5 million” from “several Arkansas liquor store owners…(the) pain management industry…and at least one wealthy individual,” according to Talk Business.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will oversee part of the program and Couch has said dispensaries will be run more “more like liquor stores than they are restaurants.” Couch also has a history of working on other campaigns relating to the Arkansas liquor industry.

With that kind of big money, getting grassroots volunteers are unnecessary. In a top down manner, the initiative has the ability to hire a group of out-of-state, full time professional canvassers to come in and gather the signatures.

ACC Early Voting Volunteer

Courtesy Photo | A volunteer with Arkansans for Compassionate Care stands outside the Washington County Courthouse to recruit signatures for the petition to get the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act on the ballot in November.

Understanding the Differences

The AMMA allows for eight cultivation facilities statewide and no limitations on how much to charge for the marijuana. The owners of the cultivation facilities will be determined by a state legislative appointed commission. The tax proceeds are divided up between the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and various state revenue funds.

That kind of situation could lead to a monopoly on the product, considering the distribution center owners will be determined by a legislative commission, the members of which may owe political favors, said Ryan Denham, Deputy Director of the AMCA campaign.

“The other campaign is about financial interests, quite frankly,” Denham said. “The gentleman who is doing this, David Couch, is doing a bunch of other initiatives. He doesn’t care about the patients. The financial aspect is what’s appealing to him and why he’s pushing this forward. When you run some of these campaigns, you can make a lot of profit. We only have a few paid staff, we’re practically all volunteers.”

In 2015, the state of Ohio faced a proposal similar to Couch’s AMMA. It was rejected with 35 percent for and 65 percent against. Prior to that defeat, the New York Times published an article titled, “(Ohio) grapples with specter of marijuana monopoly.”

According to the Times, Ohio’s “Issue 3 (was) bankrolled by wealthy investors spending nearly $25 million. Those investors also committed to spending $400 million if it passed, and would receive exclusive rights on 10 parcels of land for growing marijuana. The monopoly concerns were so strong that the Ohio General Assembly proposed an antimonopoly amendment to block Issue 3.”

The AMCA, on the other hand, has multiple provisions to ensure poor people have access, and does not allow for a monopoly. All of the taxes generated from the proposal go back into the program to fund its operations and to ensure patients can afford their medicine.

Overseen by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), the AMCA provides for up to 38 initial non-profit “Cannabis Care Centers” across the state that must be approved through an application process. Additionally, there is a very tightly regulated hardship cultivation clause, which allows patients in the many rural areas of Arkansas far away from dispensaries to grow a small amount of their own medicine.

There’s no clause for hardships in the AMMA.

“We believe that patients should be able to produce their own medicine if they want to,” Denham said. “The other initiative outright bans that. We also have an affordability clause to provide medical marijuana at a lower cost in our initiative we’re proud of. That program would pay for it itself through a tax on the medicine.”

Medical marijuana has been approved in 23 states and millions of people now can legally use this medicine.

Studies have shown cannabis can be beneficial for fighting — and in some cases removal of symptoms — cancer, seizures, glaucoma, PTSD, and many others. It is also an effective alternative to Oxycontin and other opiates for severe intractable pain. Currently, Arkansas’s sick live in a system where a doctor may recommend marijuana as an effective treatment, but cannot provide any, leaving patients to endanger themselves or face getting arrested for possession.

“Our campaign is about the patient, for the patient,” Denim said. “We have an expanded medical marijuana condition list. We have 56 different conditions that can qualify you for treatment that are found in other medical marijuana states. The other campaign has somewhere around 12 on their list, so it’s a much more limited scope in how many Arkansans it’s going to help.”

Read the Medicinal Marijuana Proposals

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016

Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act

Another ballot initiative is also circulating for full medical and recreational legalization of marijuana.

The Arkansas Hemp and Marijuana Amendment

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