The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a medical marijuana voter initiative can remain on the state’s ballot for the upcoming elections. The Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values had brought suit against the initiative, claiming that its proposed description on the ballot was misleading, in that it did not sufficiently emphasize the illegality of marijuana under federal law. The proposed language has already been revised more than once in response to similar comments from the state’s attorney general. The court characterized the ballot summary for Arkansans for Compassionate Care’s initiative as “an adequate and fair representation without misleading tendencies or partisan coloring,” dismissing the conservative coalition’s complaint.
If the initiative, known as Issue 5, is successful, medical marijuana patients approved by the state’s Department of Health would be authorized to possess marijuana, as well as to cultivate a limited number of plants for their own use. They would also be permitted to purchase the drug from any of a maximum of 30 non-profit dispensaries. The approved summary of the initiative mentions specific diseases for which marijuana could be authorized as a treatment, including AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, ALS, PTSD, and Crohn’s disease, as well as any “chronic or debilitating” disease which produces particular symptoms including severe nausea, chronic pain, wasting, persistent muscle spasms, or seizures. The measure has a slight lead in the polls.
Arguments from opponents of the issue were based on speculation or distraction rather than medicine. Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council Action Committee, a member of the coalition which filed suit against the measure, claimed that the “real agenda” of the initiative was to completely legalize marijuana. He based this on the fact that many supporters of medical marijuana also support farther-reaching marijuana law reform. Larry Page, the director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, another member of the coalition, made a similar red-herring argument, calling it “the first incremental step to legalizing marijuana for recreational use.”
But the question on the ballot, of course, deals with the medical use of marijuana for serious illnesses, which the scientific evidence supports. Cox further claimed in complete seriousness that since smoking tobacco is harmful for your health, medical marijuana must be useless and even harmful. He added the claims that marijuana is addictive and that marijuana use would increase if medical use were allowed. Studies show, however, that relaxing criminal penalties has no effect on usage rates, while the Institute of Medicine states that if marijuana dependence exists, it is mild and rare compared to most other drugs. Voters will hopefully see through the coalition’s claims to the contrary, making Arkansas the 18th state in the U.S., and the first in the South, to recognize the medical value of marijuana.
Published with special permission from the Marijuana Policy Project