Arkansas Ban On Smoking Medical Marijuana Fails In Senate, Edibles Bill Held Off

Mar 6, 2017

Steps leading up the Arkansas Senate chamber.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

An attempt to ban the smoking of medical marijuana fell short in the Arkansas Senate while a bill to ban edibles was deferred. But both measures altering the voter-approved constitutional amendment could come up later this week.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Monday, Republican Jason Rapert of Bigelow said inhaling smoke is not good medicine.

“You mark my word. People will be hurt, they will be injured, and some will die as a result of this loose amendment,” said the senator.

“Whether from burning wood, tobacco, marijuana the same toxins and carcinogens that are released from the combustion of materials, especially in cigarette smoke, are also present in marijuana smoke,” claimed Rapert after talking referencing opposition from the American Lung Association.

But the Republican senator faced resistance from within his own party, including Senator Jeremy Hutchinson of Benton. Hutchinson, an opponent of medical marijuana in the November election, said it would behoove his colleagues to adhere to the state motto Regnat Populus – the people rule.

“Whether we like it or not the people have voted this in and they want us to comply. They only thing they gave us authority to do in the constitutional amendment was to implement their wishes,” he said. “I would argue this is in direct violation of the vast majority of people that voted for that. I think it’s time to respect the will of the people even if it doesn’t comport with our desires or our feelings.”

The veteran legislator said if the Senate backs a smoking ban for the product there would be a voter backlash.

“If we want to ensure that we’ll have recreational marijuana in two years then do this. Because the people will rise up and they will pass recreational marijuana. They will probably punish a lot of us for thinking we’re smarter than they are.”

Senator Rapert retorted that allowing smoking under the current amendment is tantamount to recreational marijuana already being legalized.

The fact that inhaling smoke can be damaging to lungs was not a persuasive argument to Hutchinson as to why it should be banned.

“I agree it’s bad but there’s a lot of bad things that people want. People want to get certain piercings that are bad but I voted to let those people get their piercings. Smoking tobacco is bad but nobody’s filed a bill to outlaw smoking of tobacco,” laughed Hutchinson. “While I agree that smoking marijuana is not ideal and there’s better way to deliver whatever medicinal values there are, the people spoke.”

The medical marijuana smoking ban – which would leave oils on the table for patients – failed 10 to 15 with nine members not voting. It needs a two-thirds vote in the 35 member chamber to amend the constitutional amendment that authorized the program.