Arkansas voters will again consider a medical marijuana proposal in November. After dropping off box loads of petition signatures at the Secretary of State's office a couple of weeks ago, members of the group Arkansans for Compassionate Care say they got word Thursday that enough were valid.
"We did get official news that we are certified for the ballot with 77,516 valid signatures which is nearly 10,000 over the required number. It's absolutely fabulous," said Campaign Director Melissa Fults.
The proposal would allow dispensaries to sell marijuana to people with a doctor's note. Anyone living more than 20 miles from a dispensary would be allowed to grow their own.
Fults again called on David Couch, who’s leading another medical marijuana proposal to drop his bid, suggesting if both are on the ballot, both will fail.
"It's going to confuse the voters, number one, and they'll just get frustrated and either vote no on both of them or some will vote for his, some will vote for ours, it gets very confusing and the opponents are going to vote against all of them and so it's going to split the vote and cause both of them to fail."
Couch has said in the past he would continue pushing for a constitutional amendment.
A third proposal would allow the recreational use of marijuana. Neither of those have yet submitted signatures to the state.
In 2012, voters narrowly defeated a similar proposal 51 to 48 percent.
In a statement Thursday, Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council Action Committee, said the group will examine all signatures turned in by Arkansans for Compassionate Care and suggested it's just a way to marijuana available to anyone who wants it.
It’s written so broadly that virtually any healthy adult with pain or nausea will be able to finagle a way to use marijuana. There won’t be any prescriptions from a doctor—just a note. No pharmacies will dispense it, and no one will regulate the content or dosage. It will force the Arkansas Department of Health to spend millions of tax dollars on the state’s marijuana program.
Asked about the proposals Thursday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson questioned the medical benefits of smoking marijuana, saying THC, the key active ingredient of the drug, can be obtained in pill form. The Republican governor was the director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency from 2001-2003. Hutchinson said he opposes the ballot item. But he said he's asking the medical community, and in particular Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, to take the lead in the debate over marijuana.
"Any efforts in relation to voter education in reference to opposition should be from the medical community, from physicians. Those are trusted voices that the people of Arkansas would listen to," Hutchinson said. "I've asked the surgeon general really to be a lead spokesperson in reference to those initiatives and articulate any concerns that he has from a physician standpoint."
Bledsoe said the use of marijuana should be regulated the same way pharmaceutical drugs are.
"Certainly what I would encourage people to do... is take these substances and compounds that people are showing interest in and take them through the FDA approval process and do it in a scientific way, not just based on people's anecdotal, I don't know, recommendations," Bledsoe said.