Medical marijuana program finally taking shape

 

Last update: February 11, 2019

 

The road to legal medical marijuana in Arkansas has been a rocky one. After passing in 2016, the rollout of the medical marijuana program has been marred with delays and hiccups. Thankfully, things are progressing, and patients may finally get access to medical marijuana this spring.

The Medical Marijuana Commission has licensed five medical marijuana cultivators and 32 retail medical marijuana dispensaries. Cultivators have begun to break ground, and the dispensaries recently received approval to begin their construction. Cultivators are expected to have medical marijuana available for dispensaries in April.

The Medical Marijuana Commission also began mailing out medical marijuana ID cards to qualifying Arkansas patients. As of February 7, 2019, over 7,000 patient ID cards have been approved. Although patients currently don’t have a legal place to purchase medical marijuana, this is a step in the right direction. Cards will take effect on February 15. Hopefully, patients will not have to wait too much longer to get a medicine voters approved over two years ago.


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-three 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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