Medical marijuana program begins, delayed by litigation
Last update: June 11, 2018
Before concluding for the year in 2017, the legislature implemented several changes to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, both good and bad. Next, the licensing process began. The Medical Marijuana Commission will issue up to 32 dispensary licenses and five cultivation center licenses, and another three cultivation licenses may be added in the future. Applications were accepted from June 30 until September 18, 2017, and the commission announced cultivation licensees in early 2018.
In March 2018, an unsuccessful applicant sued the state, claiming that the Medical Marijuana Commission’s scoring process was flawed and that two of the commission’s members had conflicts of interest. The judge sided with the unsuccessful applicant, and the state’s rollout of the medical marijuana program was put on pause. We learned that one commissioner was even offered a bribe from a company seeking a cultivation license. The case is now before the Arkansas Supreme Court.
No matter who wins this case, it’s Arkansas patients who are losing out. We hope that these legal matters will be concluded in a timely manner so that patients may have access to the medicine they need.
In other news, beginning on June 30, 2017, patients could begin applying for ID cards through the Department of Health. Cards cost $50 and will be issued 30 days before dispensaries start selling cannabis. However, cards will not be issued until one month prior to medical cannabis becoming available in the state. For more information, please check the department’s website here.
Many thanks to everyone who worked to make Arkansas the first state in the Deep South with a compassionate medical cannabis law!
Current law is one of the harshest nationwide
Arkansas has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the nation, but despite increasing interest around the country for improvements to marijuana laws, the Arkansas Legislature has shown little interest in changing its cannabis laws. Possessing less than four ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor carrying up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Possessing an ounce of marijuana or more by those who have twice been convicted of possession is a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $6,000.
Let your lawmakers know it’s long past time for a more proportionate and fiscally sound approach to marijuana. Twenty-two states — including Mississippi, North Carolina, and Missouri — have decriminalized or legalized marijuana. Ask your legislators to impose a civil fine on marijuana possession or to regulate marijuana like alcohol.
In 2012, there were at least 5,718 marijuana arrests in Arkansas. Of those arrests, over 90% were for marijuana possession. During the same year, 91% of all reported burglaries, including home invasions, and over 90% of all motor vehicle thefts went unsolved. Law enforcement should stop wasting time on marijuana-related offenses and use its resources to stop real crime.
In addition to wasting law enforcement time on victimless marijuana offenses, marijuana enforcement has been extremely unequal in Arkansas. African Americans in Arkansas are over three times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana compared with whites, although both black and white populations consume marijuana at similar rates. To learn more about how the war on marijuana can be used to discriminate against African Americans in the U.S. and in Arkansas, check out the ACLU’s recent report.
In a disappointing development, in June 2018 Little Rock Board of Directors voted down a proposal to make marijuana possession the lowest enforcement priority for law enforcement.
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