LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - In 2012, Arkansas voters rejected an initiative that would have legalized the use of medical marijuana. The measure failed by a narrow margin, roughly 51 percent to 49 percent, and fact that they came that close has marijuana advocates doubling down on the 2014 general election.
• Arkansans react (in Nov. 2012) to failed Issue 5: http://on.kthv.com/182Mv85
"I think Arkansas is really ready for it," said Melissa Fults, Campaign Director for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group behind last year's ballot initiative. "I really think Arkansas is ready for the medical. Most people didn't think we had a chance last time."
Fults uses cannabis to treat arthritis, fibromyalgia and migraines. She does not like smoking it so she ingests it through other methods and says she hates breaking the law.
"It's terrifying," said Fults. "To say that I use cannabis is frightening because I can be arrested, but the medications that they can give me have such severe side-effects for me and make me so deathly ill, I either have to choose using an illegal substance or spend half of my time in bed and I would probably be in a wheelchair by now."
"If this were being done the way we do other drugs: through the FDA, through a pharmacy, with a prescription from a doctor, all those things, then that would be one thing, but that's not what this is," said Family Council Action Committee Executive Director Jerry Cox. "If it were about medicine the doctors, the pharmacists, the health care people would all be in favor of it, but they're not. They're telling us this is bad medicine."
Cox says medical marijuana advocates are more interested in full decriminalization and making profits than they are in helping sick people.
"It's very concerning because marijuana is big business now. If you look at the marijuana industry people are literally making millions of dollars by growing the marijuana, selling the marijuana products, opening the marijuana stores," added Cox. Arkansas is just the next market for them. They don't care about our families, they don't care about our kids, they don't care about who it hurts, they're looking at how to make a fast dollar off the people of Arkansas."
State Drug Director Fran Flener agrees, and says there's a growing trend of acceptance when it comes to cannabis.
"I think this false perception that marijuana is not harmful, that it's not addicting, it's just marijuana. I think that is so insidious that it makes the problem even worse," said Flener. "If we legalize marijuana for any use there will be a whole industry that will develop that will market and push their product primarily to youth... When we keep it illegal we protect our families and especially our young people from the commercialization that comes with any type of legal drug."
Chad Richmond uses cannabis to treat his symptoms of Crohn's Disease. Like Fults, he prefers not to smoke marijuana. Richmond struggled with prescription medication abuse and addiction before turning to cannabis, a move he says turned his life around. Now, instead of worrying about the side-effects of his painkillers, he worries about getting arrested.
"We don't want to have to break the law to obtain our medicine," said Richmond. "It makes you nervous but I believe that popping all those pills and doing the behaviors that I demonstrated while on a lot of those pills was a lot scarier."
With very little middle ground between the supporters and opposition, there's one thing that people on both sides of the issue do agree on. With multiple efforts to get marijuana on the ballot next year Arkansas voters may face a confusing choice.
"It is confusing," added Cox. "Even to those of us who are following it and the people who aren't watching it, it's really going to be confusing for them."
"It's going to be confusing because they're going to go 'Hey, I don't know which one to vote for, I don't know what all these mean,' so it does concern me," said Fults.
"How do you keep up with the nuances of each one and what their implications are?," added Flener. "It really is very, very difficult."
Flener says last week she checked with the state Attorney General's office and found 18 different ballot proposals being submitted on marijuana-related issues ranging from medical use to full legalization.
Right now only two of those have been approved to start collecting signatures.