Governor opposes marijuana proposals

The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen OPPOSED: Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to the Association of Arkansas Counties' 48th annual Conference at the Hot Springs Convention Center Thursday about initiatives on the November ballot.
The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen OPPOSED: Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to the Association of Arkansas Counties' 48th annual Conference at the Hot Springs Convention Center Thursday about initiatives on the November ballot.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told the Association of Arkansas Counties' 48th Annual Conference Thursday that he will oppose two proposals on the November general election ballot that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

"I will be opposing the two marijuana initiatives," Hutchinson told the conference, which was held at the Hot Springs Convention Center. "You can imagine the enforcement issues and the regulatory issues that are involved with this. I do not see any tax benefits for the state. I see more of a tax drain for the state."

A similar medical marijuana proposal hit the 2012 ballot, but was narrowly defeated by a 2 percent margin.

"In other words, it almost passed. The general thinking is with that kind of momentum in 2012 and with what is happening in some other states, these initiatives are likely to pass this year. I will concede that we have a historical argument for it," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson appointed Dr. Greg Bledsoe, a physician, as surgeon general in hopes that with his experience in medicine he could lead the efforts to oppose the two marijuana proposals. He said the proposals are not only dealing with medicine, but also the recreational use of marijuana across the state.

"No one wants to deny appropriate medical care from one in need, but physicians make that determination. The American Medical Society has not determined that smoking marijuana has beneficial effects, but yet we are going to allow it by a ballot initiative. That is not a good way to determine good medicine," Hutchinson said.

The initiatives call for the Arkansas Department of Health to handle regulation and enforcement with three state departments. A new commission, the Medical Marijuana Commission, would be established to work alongside the ADH and Alcoholic Beverage Control.

"It is going to be a consuming, and as someone said, a 'nightmarish' enterprise to pass the laws to regulate this and for our state to not be consumed by this. One of the big debates is, if you are going to have a medical marijuana initiative, what is going to be the source of supply because, under federal law, it is still illegal. They 'wink' right now at Colorado. Maybe they'll stop 'winking' some day," Hutchinson said.

Under the Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016, only dispensaries that are licensed with the ADH will be permitted to sell marijuana. Qualified patients who live 20 miles or more away from a cannabis care center would be permitted to grow their own marijuana through the other initiative. Employers and landlords would no longer be able to discriminate against marijuana users.

"So if it is lawful, the landlords are going to have to take whoever comes whether they grow their own or not," Hutchinson said.

A subsidization program would be implemented to set aside tax revenue from marijuana sales to purchase marijuana for low-income residents.

"Parents can sign a form to allow their children to get medical marijuana. You would say no parent would do that, but we know better. I don't think this is good for our counties," Hutchinson said.

The secretary of state's office last month approved one medical marijuana proposal for the November ballot and is reviewing petitions submitted for a competing measure, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

David Couch, the sponsor of the measure still being reviewed, told the AP fees and taxes in his proposal would more than pay for the cost of regulating the drug, adding "it's going to be revenue positive."

Melissa Fults, the head of Arkansans for Compassionate Care, which is behind the measure approved for November, told the AP regulation would also be covered by taxes and license fees. Plus, she said, it'll create jobs at dispensaries and for related services such as security and grow-lighting.

"It's going to create a huge number of jobs besides giving patients an alternative for their medicine," Fults said. "I think he would appreciate jobs being created."

Fults' group asked the state Supreme Court to dismiss a request by opponents to prevent the state from counting or certifying any votes for the proposal. The complaint filed Wednesday claims the language of the proposal is misleading.

"They have to tell us, the court and other parties, what the facts are, but they don't," the group said in Thursday's filing, the AP reported.

Local on 08/26/2016