The Facebook page forArkansans for Compassionate Care(ACC) has been alluding to big news all week. “If you have your ear to the ground in just the right place, you know the good news is coming. Arkansas get ready, greatness is upon you!”
The grouphas reason to celebrate. At 2pm EST this Monday they will travel toLittle Rockto submit approximately 130,000 signatures, more than double the 62,000 needed to qualify, putting medical marijuana up for a vote in November.
If the Arkansas initiative passes, its supporters are confident that it will represent the dawn of a sea change in Federal marijuana policy. They believe that by becoming the first Southern state to pass such a bill, the Federal government will be forced to address prohibition at a national level.
“We are in the Bible Belt, this isn’t generally one of the states that is a hotbed of marijuana reform or policy. If passed, this will send a strong message nationally—we did it before [bigger, more populated states such as] Illinois, Georgia and Texas,” says Ryan Denhman, Campaign Director for ACC, “Arkansans are leaders and we are going to set an example for the rest of the country. Marijuana is medicine and it is time we recognize that on a national level. We hope that [the passage of our initiative] sends a strong message to national elected officials.”
The group has reason to celebrate. At 2pm EST this Monday they will travel to Little Rock to submit approximately 130,000 signatures, more than double the 62,000 needed to qualify, putting medical marijuana up for a vote in November.
Denham is confident medical marijuana will pass in November. Denham is running a professional and well-organized campaign with outside political consultants, funding and support but with a framework of strong local, bipartisan, grassroots organization.
“This has been a real Arkansas campaign,” Denham says, “We have a very diverse group of people from both sides of the aisle backing this initiative.” The campaign has brought in almost 700 volunteers and has a core of 20-25 people working full-time on the initiative. The campaign has solicited support from not just Liberals but also Republican, Tea Party and religious groups in the state.
While he cannot disclose the actual figures, Denham says that polls conducted by theMarijuana Policy Project (MPP)last year indicate strong passage when the initiative goes up for a vote in November.
ACC’s strategy is to use an educational campaign to sway undecided voters. Since they began collecting signatures in April 2011, they have promoted the initiative with the “Real Arkansans” campaign, featuring people of all ages and demographics who are speaking out in support of the initiative in order to have the legal ability to use it to relieve their own symptoms of discomfort caused by both chronic physical and mental disorders and illnesses.
The campaign highlights the stories of medical marijuana supporters with a broader mainstream appeal such asEmily Williams, wife of Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams.
Williams was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2010 and lied to her husband about using marijuana to treat the symptoms of cancer because it was illegal. She was prescribed four different pharmaceutical drugs that she felt weren’t effective. “Marijuana helped me live a normal life during my battle with cancer, but it was too risky. I was offered marijuana during my last treatment but I couldn’t bring myself to put my family in jeopardy,” she explains on the ACC site. Eventually her husband came out publicly in favor of medical marijuana saying “It wasn’t until my wife got sick that I knew we couldn’t be quiet about this anymore.” The community largely supported and continues to support their stance.
The campaign also will feature a former police officer and combat veteran suffering from service-relate injuries and PTSD,a man living with HIV,an elderly woman with Alzheimer’sand more average otherwise ‘straight’ citizens who use marijuana medically.
The bill was modeled closely off of the medical initiatives that have passed inArizonaandMaine, two very states on opposite ends of the political spectrum that have passed similar bills. If passed it will permit a maximum of 30 dispensaries to operate within the state. The number was derived using the ratio of population (3 million) to traditional pharmacies (800) in the state and adjusting it for estimated marijuana use.
While patients will have the ability to grow their own marijuana they will not be allowed to do so outside of a five-mile radius from the nearest dispensary. “The initiative does not permit outdoor growing,” says Denham, “skeptical voters will have the ability to vote yes while remaining confident that production will be highly regulated.”
Like Maine and Arizona, there are fifteen approved conditions which marijuana can be prescribed to treat. The Arkansas initiative expands those to also include PTSD and fibromyalgia. Additionally, there are other symptoms listed but not specified to a particular disease such as pain, seizures, nausea and muscle spasticity. “This mechanism allows for conditions to be added over time as more research proves it effective for different conditions,” Denham says.
The Arkansas Department of Health will oversee the enactment and compliance of the law and issue medical marijuana cards. Dispensaries will be not-for-profit and at this time do not include a tax-revenue model. Individual cities or municipalities can choose to pass tax measures locally or legislatively or ban marijuana dispensaries if it is passed.
ACC faces organized opposition from the Coalition to Protect Arkansas Values (CPAV) a small religious group. So far however, they have not been able to fund a coordinated campaign in opposition. Denham says the group has opposed past local initiatives.
ACC on the other hand, is confident it can gather enough funding for the November election. MPP has largely helped fund the $250,000 necessary to collect the signatures but a long and expensive campaign now lies ahead. Small donations have also been collected through their website. Currently, there are no public plans to solicitArkansas-based Corporation Wal-Mart, although Denham jokingly admits it is not entirely out of the question.
While Denham is confident in the bills passage he is also cognizant of the political climate. “We are not trying to pop the cork now, we still have a lot of hurdles to cross.” he says.
The Federal government has been cracking down in California and Colorado, the two largest medical marijuana states. “There is always that concern, but growing large amounts of medical marijuana will not fly under this law,” Dunham says, “We are not going to have massive grow houses…. It is going to be a slow process, I don’t see a lot of dispensaries popping up immediately after we pass this law, I don’t expect too much involvement with the Federal government.”