LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – The Arkansas Senate Committee on Health, Welfare, and Labor heard multiple bills concerning the implementation of the Medical Marijuana Amendment passed by voters last November.
High on the committee’s agenda was state senator Jason Rapert’s Senate Bill 238, which would delay the Arkansas medical marijuana program until it is legal federally. Currently, marijuana and cannabidiol are Schedule 1 Controlled Substances, meaning the Drug Enforcement Agency has stated that they possess “high potential for abuse” and “no accepted medical use.”
During the committee meeting, a social worker stated that the bill’s purpose is nothing more “than to undermine the will of the people.”
Melissa Fults, the lead sponsor for Issue 7 or the Arkansas Medical Cannibis Act, claimed that she has sent several messages about doctors who would speak on behalf of medical marijuana. She claimed that she was give “no response.” The Arkansas Supreme Court removed Fult’s Issue 7 from the November ballot days after early voting had begun. The court’s decision stemmed from discrepancies with the signature-gathering process required for the issue’s ballot status.
Republican state representative Douglas House spoke in opposition to SB 238, saying he had heard from “hundreds of people benefiting from this product." He continued, "As long as it's being regulated by state law, [federal agents] will not prosecute." House, once opposed to medical marijuana, now supports its legislation.
Rapert defended the bill asking for the committee again to delay the program’s implementation until medical marijuana has federal legal status.
SB 238 failed, as committee was unwilling to take up a vote.
The committee also heard Rapert’s Senate Bill 357, which would ban the smoking of medical marijuana. In defense of the bill, the state senator claimed that banning the smoking of the substance “would deter recreational use in the future.”
Rapert stated that a patient could get medical marijuana for “stubbing his or her toe.” However, “toe stubbing” is not an approved medical condition, according to the voter-approved Medical Marijuana Amendment. The current approved list includes:
cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS+, hepatitis C, ALS, Tourette’s syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, PTSD, severe arthritis, fibromyalgia, and Alzheimer’s disease
In addition, amendment extends coverage to patients who suffer a “chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition.”
Republican state senator John Cooper pressed Rapert on the definitions of “smoking” and “vaping.” Cooper asked for clarification on whether “vaping” was facilitated by a pipe or medical mask. Rapert answered that he had not investigated that aspect of the proposed bill.
Jerry Cox, the president of the Family Council, spoke in favor of the SB 357. He stated that smoking medical marijuana was a “recreational activity,” and thus, “not medicine.” Cox wrote on the Family Council's website that Arkansas’s Medical Marijuana Amendment “effectively brings recreational marijuana to Arkansas under the auspices of ‘medicine.’” He stated that the Family Council is currently looking for avenues to “head off the marijuana industry in Arkansas before Arkansans are harmed or killed by marijuana-use.”
Cox has previously advocated the organization's causes, and his efforts have resulted in new laws. On his website biography, he stated that “in 2004, he spearheaded a successful effort to amend the Arkansas Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” This amendment was ruled unconstitutional in 2015 with Obergefell v. Hodges, the United States Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
Cox stated in the committee that smoking medical marijuana would cause children to inhale second-hand marijuana smoke. According to Cox, this would lead to a “little baby in cradle inhaling smoke.”
Fults and House and both spoke in opposition to Rapert’s bill, saying that patients would not be able to afford medical vapes or cannabidiol.
House stated that cannabidiol, which he claimed could cost $3,500, would only be valued at $250 “on the streets.” House said that as a result of the high medical cost, Arkansas “will go buy cheaper product on the street.”
SB 357 passed the committee and will be heard in the Arkansas Senate.
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