In the fervor surrounding the most recent election, coverage of issues specific to Arkansas was mostly neglected or lost in the controversies of the bitter presidential race. However, one specific ballot issue will be of major importance to residents and Hendrix students. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment was one of two different medical marijuana issues which Arkansans had the opportunity to cast their vote for. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act was on the ballot as well, but was ruled illegitimate by the state supreme court just days before the elections.
The AMMA received 53 percent of the vote and will therefore initiate the process to allow medical marijuana for any eligible Arkansas residents. Arkansas joined Florida this year to be the first of the southern states to allow medical marijuana.
The results of the initiative were somewhat surprising. In a state currently dominated by the Republican Party, most of whom came out against the passage of any form of medical marijuana, the ballot had to receive support from voters from both parties. This is evidence of a recent shift in opinion concerning Americans’ attitudes towards medical marijuana and marijuana in general.
While Arkansas now joins a list of 28 other states that now allow medical marijuana, each state tackles this process in its own way. The structure of the AMMA was significantly different from that of the AMCA and a cause of much dispute before the election as to which amendment would be better for Arkansas.
Some of the specific details of the AMMA include that it lists 12 different medical conditions as qualifying for a patient to have access to medical marijuana. In addition, the AMMA allows qualification for pain that persists after six months with no response from other medications.
The AMMA authorizes a maximum of 40 dispensaries throughout the state, as well as a maximum of four dispensaries per county.
30% of revenue collected through sales tax on medical marijuana would go to the state, with the remaining revenue going to the regulatory structure and vocational programs in Arkansas.
A major difference between the AMMA and the AMCA was that the AMMA does not allow for patients to grow their own marijuana at home. The AMCA, significantly, did have a provision giving patients this privilege if they lived far enough away from a distribution center. The AMCA as well had a more inclusive list of medical conditions, including 38 different conditions which would qualify a patient for medical marijuana.
The final major difference was that the AMCA would have used revenue gained from sales tax to pay for its regulatory structure as well but the remaining profit would go to subsidizing medical marijuana to those without a sufficient income to afford their medical marijuana prescriptions.
Some of these differences highlighted significant issues that Hendrix students have with the AMMA. Kiran Chakka, a junior Sociology major, was opposed to the amendment for a multitude of reasons.
One of the major issues that Chakka had with the amendment stemmed from the absence of a grow your own provision.
“The AMMA’s regulations make it extremely difficult for rural and poor patients to have access,” Chakka stated.
Chakka is also wary of the “for profit” nature of the AMMA.
“Pharmaceutical companies do not need more help profiting off of the pain of others,” Chakka said. “While profit is obviously necessary in many instances, and without it many useful drugs would not exist, the crux is that the AMCA is regulated by state pharmacies and the state while the AMMA is regulated by whoever bids more money.”
Chakka would like to see the AMMA amended, by the state legislature, so that it can better serve Arkansans. He believes that the AMMA, through making medical care more cost prohibitive, does not even serve the people it was meant to help the most.
While the AMMA was approved by voters in November, Arkansas patients will not be able to receive medical marijuana in the near future. The state legislature as well as the board which was created to begin the process of dispensing medical marijuana will be reviewing the best process to begin implementing marijuana to patients.
Along the way, the AMMA will face roadblocks and obstruction which may derail the process for even longer. At the present time, State Senator Jason Rapert has introduced a bill which would delay the implementation of medical marijuana until the time that the federal government no longer views marijuana as an illicit drug. Since that will not be happening soon, that bill would, in effect forever delay the AMMA.
However, Governor Asa Hutchinson and other Republicans in the state have emphasized their commitment to fulfilling the will of the people and continuing with the implementation of the AMMA. But this example highlights the current continued divide over marijuana and its place in our homes and in our health care.