Issue 7 of 2016: Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act
UPDATE 11/3/2016: The Arkansas Supreme Court today declined to rehear its decision that knocked Issue 7 off the ballot, giving no further explanation for its ruling against petition signatures for the citizen-sponsored initiative.
UPDATE 10/31/2016: Arkansans for Compassionate Care today asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to reverse its ruling that struck Issue 7 from the November ballot for invalid signatures, saying “The Legislature essentially created a trap because it upended many years of prior practice. Issue 7 is the first catch of that trap. If this decision stands, there may be no future grassroots efforts simply because of lack of money.”
UPDATE 10/27/2016: Issue 7, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, was struck from the ballot today by the Arkansas Supreme Court, who ruled that canvassers didn’t correctly follow new canvasser requirements (among other problems).
As a result, votes for Issue 7 will not be tabulated (the issue remains on the ballot). Read the split court’s opinion, written by Justice Karen Baker, here.
Issue 7, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, is the only November 8, 206 ballot issue that is not a proposed amendment to our state Constitution. If passed, Issue 7 would result in new Arkansas law.
Issues 6 and 7 both deal with medical marijuana; however, Issue 7 is sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the same group that brought forward Arkansas’ first (narrowly defeated) medical marijuana measure in 2012. (LINK removed when Arkansans for Compassionate Care deleted their website after the election.)
If both medical marijuana issues pass, the one with the most votes will prevail.
Highlights of Issue 7 are listed below and more specifics are here. But, because Issues 6 and 7 are complex and detailed, we hope you take the time to read Issue 7 completely before deciding your vote. (LINK removed when Arkansans for Compassionate Care deleted their website after the election.)
UPDATE 10/08/16: Added section: “When Would Issue 7 Take Effect?”
Overall, Issue 7, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act:
♦ Makes medical use of marijuana legal under Arkansas state law, but reiterates that use, possession, and distribution are illegal under federal law
♦ Shields qualified patients, caregivers, providers and doctors from arrest, prosecution, penalty or discrimination under Arkansas law
♦ Sets up nonprofit cannabis care centers (“dispensaries”) that would cultivate and distribute medical marijuana to registered patients; allows patients or caregivers who live more than 20 miles from a nonprofit cannabis care center and hold a hardship cultivation certificate to grow their own medical marijuana in limited quantities and under limited conditions. (No nonprofit cannabis care centers within 1,000 feet of the property line of a pre-existing public or private school.)
♦ Sets up cannabis testing labs where medical marijuana from nonprofit cannabis care centers will be labeled for potency and guaranteed pesticide-free and organically grown. Such labs would be registered with the Health Department. (No testing labs within 1,000 feet of the property line of a pre-existing public or private school.)
♦ Names medical conditions that allow for the use of medical marijuana (the Health Department would be responsible for adding any new qualifying medical conditions)
♦ Names the state Health Department as the state agency responsible for rules about patient ID cards, hardship cultivation certificates, and the operation of nonprofit cannabis care centers and cannabis testing labs.
♦ Gives local communities the right to limit the number of cannabis care centers and enact zoning about their locations
♦ Allows medical marijuana to be taxed at state and local levels; earmarks those state and local sales taxes for Health Department’s administrative expenses for the medical marijuana program and to be used to assist low-income patients with acquiring medical marijuana
When Would Issue 6 Take Effect?
Arkansas law says ballot measures take effect 30 days after the election. The state Health Dept has 120 days from the law’s effective date to set rules for:
♦ registry ID cards, nonprofit cannabis care center certification and operation, applications for nonprofit cannabis care centers and cannabis testing labs, and how new medical conditions can be qualified; and
♦ 180 days from the law’s effective date to set rules on dispensing cannabis to qualifying low-income patients; and
♦ one year to set up applications for hardship cultivation certificates.
Arkansans for Compassionate Care collected enough signatures to put a similar initiated state statute on the 2012 Arkansas ballot. Under that measure, patients could have obtained marijuana for medical purposes from dispensaries or grown by patients. However, that measure lost on a 51.44% (no) vs. 48.56% (yes) vote.
Former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel cleared the current measure for circulation in 2014. Supporters used both paid and unpaid volunteers to gather signatures and had until July 8, 2016 to submit 67,887 valid signatures (had to include at least 5% of the previous gubernatorial votes in at least 15 of the state’s counties).
On June 20, 2016, organizers submitted more than 117,000 signatures. Arkansas’ Secretary of State verified 77,516 signatures on July 2, 2016 to certify the measure for the ballot.
Arkansans for Compassionate Care says
Sick and dying patients should have access to safe and legal medical cannabis, when their doctor approves it, because synthetic drugs do not work for everyone or alleviates symptoms the way cannabis does.
Supporters say, when compared to the narrowly defeated 2012 measure, Issue 7 of 2016 has tighter regulations and more oversight than the 2012 proposal. They cite a 2005 national survey of physicians which “found that 73% approve of cannabis use to alleviate symptoms such as chronic fatigue, nausea, and pain commonly associated with AIDS, cancer and glaucoma; and 76% approve of state laws allowing the use of cannabis to alleviate chronic fatigue and pain.”
The Family Council Action Committee and Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana oppose both medical marijuana measures. While two lawsuits have been filed to stop the measure from appearing on the ballot, one has already been rejected.
In August, Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana asked the state Supreme Court to bar the Secretary of State from counting or certifying of votes for Issue 7. They questioned the ballot title, saying it used partisan language and falsely stated the act would limit the use of marijuana for medical purposes. They said the act incompletely described the act’s effect on employers, landlords, churches, and schools. However, on September 22, 2016, their suit failed when the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected their challenge.
Little Rock attorney Kara Benca filed a second suit against Issue 7 on September 2, 2016, asking the Supreme court to bar Issue 7 from the ballot or to ensure votes for it are not counted. Benca’s complaint attacks the signature-gathering process, claiming that 15,000 signatures are invalid thus not meeting the minimum signature threshold and barring the measure from the ballot. She cites evidence gathered after David Couch (attorney for competing Issue 6) hired a signature auditing company to inspect the signature petitions. (Read more on that lawsuit here.)
Also opposing the measure are Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, as well as the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities, and the Arkansas Faith & Ethics Council.
Arkansas AG Bledsoe says
We’re focused on getting the word out to explain to Arkansas citizens why marijuana is not medicine and it’s not safe.”
Issue 7, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act :
♦ Makes the medical use of cannabis legal under Arkansas state law
♦ Acknowledges that cannabis use, possession, and distribution remain illegal under federal law
♦ Establishes an affirmative defense for the medical use of cannabis
♦ Establishes a system for the cultivation and distribution of cannabis for qualifying patients through nonprofit cannabis care centers that carry limited legal immunity
♦ Establishes a system for the testing for quality, safety, and potency of cannabis through cannabis testing labs that carry limited legal immunity
♦ Allows localities to limit the number of nonprofit cannabis care centers and to enact zoning regulations governing their operations
♦ States that qualifying patients, their designated caregivers, cannabis testing lab agents, and nonprofit cannabis care center agents are not subject to criminal or civil penalties — or other forms of discrimination — for engaging in or assisting with qualifying patients’ medical use of cannabis, or for testing and labeling cannabis
♦ Allows limited cultivation of cannabis by qualifying patients and designated caregivers — if the qualifying patient lives more than 20 miles from a nonprofit cannabis care center and obtains a hardship cultivation certificate from the Health Department
♦ Allows compensation for designated caregivers
♦ Requires patients to be qualified by submitting a written physician’s certification showing a qualifying medical condition
♦ Sets an initial list of qualifying medical conditions
♦ Gives the Health Department authority to establish rules for processing registry identification cards and hardship cultivation certificates, as well as rules for operating nonprofit cannabis care centers and cannabis testing labs
♦ Sets maximum application and renewal fees for nonprofit cannabis care centers and cannabis testing labs
♦ Gives the Health Department authority to add qualifying medical conditions “if such additions will enable patients to derive therapeutic benefit from using medical cannabis”
♦ Puts the Health Department in charge of a program to provide affordable cannabis from nonprofit cannabis care centers to low-income patients
♦ Sets qualifications for registry identification cards and hardship cultivation certificates
♦ Sets standards to ensure qualifying patient and designated caregiver information is kept confidential
♦ Directs the Health Department to provide annual quantitative reports on the medical cannabis program to the Arkansas Legislature
♦ Sets registration and operation requirements for nonprofit cannabis care centers and cannabis testing labs
♦ Limits the number of nonprofit cannabis care centers
♦ Limits the amount of cannabis a nonprofit cannabis care center can cultivate
♦ limits the amount of cannabis a nonprofit cannabis care center may dispense to a qualifying patient
♦ Prohibits felons from serving as designated caregivers, owners, board members, or officers of nonprofit cannabis care centers or cannabis testing labs, nonprofit cannabis care center agents, or cannabis testing lab agents
♦ Allows visiting qualifying patients to use the medical cannabis program
♦ Prohibits special taxes on the sale of medical cannabis
♦ Directs state sales tax revenues to the Department of Health for administering the medical cannabis program and the remainder to aid low-income qualifying patients
Some info sourced from the UofA Division of Agriculture’s 2016 Ballot Issues Guide, Ballotpedia, and the Arkansas Legislature website.