Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states plus Washington, D.C. Whether or not it becomes legal in Arkansas this year depends on if it makes the ballot and who shows up at the polls.
Two competing proposals have been certified by Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. One group of supporters is actively collecting signatures, while the other is trying to raise money.
Melissa Fults, campaign director of Arkansans for Compassionate Care, said 464 volunteers have collected about 10,000 signatures and will become more active now that the weather is prettier. They must collect 62,507 signatures – eight percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election – by July 7. That’s a lot, in a short amount of time.
The other proposal, submitted by Arkansans for Responsible Medicine, will rely on paid canvassers if it can raise the money, said organizer David Couch.
The groups are trying to build on the momentum from 2012, when the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act almost passed with 48.56 percent of the vote and 507,757 Arkansans saying yes.
Still, this a nonpresidential election, which means the electorate will be smaller, older, more settled and more conservative – as opposed to 2012, when lots more young people voted in the big election. Couch said the thinking among many advocates is that it’s better to hold your fire – and save your money – until you have the best chance to win. That would be 2016.
Fults disagrees. The national mood seems to be shifting in favor of the idea. It’s hard to ignore those cancer patients asserting how marijuana helps them tolerate their disease. People, especially older ones, seem less hesitant when signing petitions than they did before, she said. She also thinks a competitive governor’s race this year will drive up turnout.
Fults, a 59-year-old dairy goat farmer from outside Little Rock, became involved in the cause after a family member was injured in a debilitating accident. She said the opiates he was taking were turning him into a “zombie” and literally were killing him. Marijuana, taken in pill form, has allowed him to live a normal life.
You can argue that she’s wrong about the policy. You can’t tell her she’s wrong about her family member.
History shows that medical marijuana can pass in a nonpresidential election. According to the website ProCon.org, of the 11 states that have legalized medical marijuana through a ballot initiative instead of a legislative act, five originally did so in nonpresidential years. Four of those, however, did so in the 1990s.
Even if Arkansans vote to legalize, there remains the thorny issue that, under federal law, possession of any amount of marijuana for any reason is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a year in prison. Even if medical marijuana is legal in Arkansas, it’s still illegal in America.
This is working in states that have legalized partly because the Obama administration, as it has a habit of doing, is selectively enforcing the law, which is not the way the system is supposed to work. Instead, Congress should pass a bill letting states decide for themselves if they will legalize medical marijuana. Then the president should sign the bill into law. Then Arkansas should legalize marijuana for medical purposes.
That would require Congress and the president to resolve a difficult issue in a statesmanlike way that increases freedom and reduces the federal government’s power.
Recent history would suggest that, if you believe that’s going to happen any time soon, you must be smoking something.