Legislative session concludes after lawmakers make changes to voter-approved medical marijuana program
Last update: April 25, 2017
The legislative session concluded after several changes to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, both good and bad, were passed. The legislature unanimously approved a 60-day delay to when patients can begin applying for ID cards, and a 30-day delay for when business license applications can first be submitted. These delays were motivated by a desire to reduce paperwork for regulators by syncing the program’s implementation with the state’s fiscal year.
On the bright side, the legislature and governor also enacted a change designed to increase doctors’ participation. Physicians will not have to certify that the benefits to medical cannabis outweigh the potential harms. Instead, doctors can simply certify any patient for the program if they confirm the patient has a qualifying condition.
The road to establishing Arkansas’s medical cannabis program was a confusing one to say the least. Last year’s election season saw two competing initiatives and multiple lawsuits, and the 2017 legislative session saw dozens of bills filed that had the potential to impact the program in various ways. Thankfully, the initiative survived the legislative session largely intact, without damage to its core protections, and patients are expected to have access to their medicine by late fall 2017. 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-one 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.
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