The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation is joining with the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce in opposing two medical marijuana initiatives that are likely to be on the ballot this November.
Representatives of those two organizations met Friday along with three other groups that oppose the measure: the Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities, which was formed by members of law enforcement and the medical community to oppose the proposals; the Family Council; and the Arkansas Faith & Ethics Council. The five groups agreed to jointly oppose the marijuana proposals and will meet Aug. 15 at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce for an organizational meeting.
The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, an initiated act to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, has already qualified for the November ballot. Signatures have been collected for the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, a constitutional amendment. It fell 12,550 signatures short of the 84,859 it needed to qualify for the ballot – enough, however, to qualify it for a 30-day “cure period” to collect more. Sponsor David Couch said he is submitting between 23,000-24,000 valid signatures that are already in hand.
The two differ in several respects beyond the fact that one has the force of law while the other is a constitutional amendment, a higher legal standard. The initiated act includes about 50 medical conditions where the marijuana use would be legal for treatment, compared to 14 in the amendment. In both, “pain” is a qualifying condition. Only the initiated act contains a provision allowing some patients to grow their own marijuana.
The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation’s Stanley Hill, vice president of public affairs and government relations, said Farm Bureau had already set a policy of being opposed to medical marijuana. He said legalizing it would make it readily available.
“I think eventually you’ll see a much broader net of various other organizations and businesses that will step up to the plate in opposition to it. It could just be detrimental to the entire economy of the state in our opinion,” he said.
Couch said he did not mind that the list of opponents to his measure is growing.
“I welcome the debate because I believe that my proposal … is safe, regulated and secure and that the people of Arkansas understand that there people that need this medicine, and this is a way to get it done,” he said. “I don’t even know what Farm Bureau has a dog in the hunt for.”
Melissa Fults with the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act said, “They have the same old argument. Most of it is outdated information. I think the people in Arkansas are smarter than that, and I think they realize that this is truly a medicine, and that it’s time for Arkansas to pass it.”
In an email to State Chamber members, Kenny Hall, executive vice president, said the ballot question committee will educate Arkansans about reasons to oppose the measures, including the fact that only doctors’ notes and no prescriptions are required, and the fact that caregivers can possess the drug.
Hall wrote that worker’s compensation attorneys have said if an employee is injured on the job with marijuana in their system, the proposals’ anti-discrimination clauses will require employers to prove the injury was caused by the drug. Employment lawyers have said employers will be exposed to lawsuits for firing employees for marijuana usage. Other laws will have to be revised.
Couch and Fults said their proposals do not require an employer to permit an employee to use marijuana at work.
What if the employee comes to work already high on marijuana?
“What if they come in on Oxycontin?” Couch replied, referring to the prescription opiate and calling the dual standard “total hypocrisy.” As for the fear of anti-discrimination lawsuits, he said, “It treats marijuana exactly the same as any other medicine.”
Hall wrote that national groups will back the state efforts with the goal of full legalization. Four states that have legalized recreational use first legalized medical marijuana use. He said the proposals are the equivalent of “de facto legalization of marijuana for recreational use.”
“We never have been, nor will we ever be proponents of full legalization. … This is about patients. If somebody else goes another direction or wants to take it further, that’s between them and the voters. This has nothing to do with us,” she said.