Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman's never been in such a political position. She's a surgical oncologist. That's good for generating approving smiles, not to mention a very liveable wage. On Monday, she was picked to chair the new Medical Marijuana Commission.
Well, "chair" — more like hotseat.
"Care to share how you voted on amendment 6?" a reporter asked new medical marijuana commissioner Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman.
"You don't have to answer that if you don't want to," Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Jake Bleed interrupted. "We're all here to carry out the intent of the voter," he told her.
"We're all here to carry out the intent of the voter," she parroted.
Another commissioner, Fayetteville lawyer Travis Story, said he'll also maintain the time-honored tradition of secret balloting. But Dr. Carlos Roman stepped up.
The anesthesiologist who chairs the state medical board’s pain committee said he voted no. Marijuana as medicine is just too untested, and synthetic THC as a pharmaceutical is already available. He’s concerned about medical marijuana’s synergy with other medicines.
"So, the concerns are — and I've reviewed a ton of charts with overdose deaths that are related — pretty much all of those are not from one substance. Most of those overdoses are multi-substances," he said. "You know, if something's additive, one plus one equals two. If it's synergistic, one plus one might equal five, six or seven, so you have to look at drug synergy."
Many of those drug overdoses are from opiate abuse, and specifically opiates combined with benzodiazepines, which have a synergistic relationship. In Colorado opiate use went down with the introduction and availability of medicinal cannabis products.
"I mean, marijuana is less addictive than alcohol. It's less addictive than opiates. The withdraw effect, you know, getting off of marijuana versus getting off an opiate, yeah, it's completely different, and you get respiratory depression with opiates, whereas you could probably smoke your body weight in marijuana if that was physiologically possible you would live to tell about it. Whereas you could take two or three pills of an opiate and not live to tell about it."
The five commissioners include Story and four Central Arkansans, doctors Henry-Tillman and Roman, and doctor of pharmacy Stephen Carroll and lobbyist James Miller.
The first medical marijuana commission meeting was short and procedural. New commission members were told how not to run afoul of the state’s Freedom of Information and open meetings laws by two lawyers, Joel DiPippa of the Department of Finance and Administration, which is the agency with the widest array of responsibilities for the state's medical marijuana roll-out, and Meredith Rebsamen of the Attorney General's office.
DiPippa reminded them that, the way the constitutional amendment is written, the commission is charged solely with the evaluation and awarding of the 20 to 40 dispensary permits, and the same for the four to eight cultivators — growers.
"The commission is specifically licensure of those dispensaries and cultivation facilities, while the division" — the Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement Division of the Department of Finance and Administration — "is in charge of writing what those specific record keeping, security, and other rule components are."
It has less than two months to make a decision on how licenses will be awarded, according to the language in the amendment.
The commission's next meeting will take place at 3 p.m. next Tuesday, again inside the 5th floor conference room at 1515 W. 7th Street.