April 26, 2011

Advocates Seek Medical Marijuana Laws In Arkansas

Arkansas supporters for the legalization of medical marijuana are looking forward to 2012, as long as they can collect enough signatures to get the proposal on the ballot, according to a recent Reuters report.

After failed attempts to get the initiative on the ballot, a new group, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, has succeeded in getting through the first obstacle -- getting certification for the proposal's ballot language from Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.

The next phase of the battle begins on Tuesday when the group can begin collecting signatures. The group will need to collect a required minimum of 62,507 signatures from registered voters by July 6, 2012 in order to qualify the proposal for the November 2012 general election ballot.

"We want to ensure that sick and dying patients in Arkansas have the ability to get the medicine they need and that is sometimes medical marijuana," Ryan Denham, campaign director for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, told Reuters.

But the president of the Arkansas Family Council, Jerry Cox, said that legalizing medical marijuana only makes the drug more available for recreational use.

"Any individual who can acquire, grow or own his own marijuana is one step away from sharing with his friends who may not have any medical issues," Cox told Reuters reporter Suzi Parker.

Sixteen states and Washington DC have passed various laws allowing marijuana for medical use since 1996, when California set the standard, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A group tried to get the issue on the ballot in Arkansas in 2004 but failed to get enough signatures.

"I think public opinion has really shifted since then," said Denham. "More people are supportive and we have a very diverse group of geographical volunteers to gather signatures."

Denham said the group has more than 300 volunteers to work to raise signatures. Also, 60 patients have said they are willing to share their stories to recruit more people to the cause. The group must get signatures from at least 15 of the 75 counties in the state.

Denham said the legislation for its proposal was modeled after similar legislation in Maine and Arizona.

He said Arkansas' proposed legislation would have a strict list of conditions people must have to be able to use medical marijuana, such as cancer. He said the state would also cap the number of dispensaries for the state at 30.

"We wanted to avoid the pitfalls that we have seen in Colorado and California about how many dispensaries there are," Denham told Reuters. "We also have a mechanism that allows cities and counties to ban dispensaries."

The law, if passed, would also allow those who are sick and have been prescribed medical marijuana by a doctor to also grow their own plants with a limit of six at a time.


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