LITTLE ROCK — Representatives of several law enforcement agencies and associations joined Wednesday with Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in calling on Arkansans to reject two ballot measures that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
Also Wednesday, a coalition that opposes legalizing medical marijuana unveiled its first television ad, and two Arkansas doctors declared their support for medical marijuana.
Two proposals to legalize medical marijuana are on the Nov. 8 ballot: Issue 6, which would do so through a constitutional amendment, and Issue 7, which would do so through an initiated act.
Each measure would allow marijuana to be dispensed to people with certain health conditions at dispensaries around the state, but the measures contain several differences, including a provision that is in Issue 7 but not in Issue 6 to allow qualifying people who live more than 20 miles from a dispensary to grow some marijuana at home.
Rutledge, Arkansas State Police Commander Col. Bill Bryant, Arkansas State Crime Lab Director Kermit Channell, the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police, the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys’ Association and the Arkansas Chapter of the FBI National Academy Associates all declared opposition to Issues 6 and 7 Wednesday.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who also opposes the measures, is in China this week on a trade mission.
“We believe the proposals here are nothing more than very thinly disguised attempts to legalize marijuana under the cloak of medicine,” law enforcement associations opposed to the measures said in a joint news release Wednesday.
“We sympathize with those that have debilitating diseases, but we also want people to understand that no matter where they stand on this issue they may want to consider these proposals were written by the big marijuana industry for the marijuana industry. The marijuana industry does not have our communities and youth’s best interests in mind and are only worried about making more money at the expense of our most vulnerable,” the associations said.
Talking to reporters Wednesday after a news conference at the state Capitol, Lonoke County Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Graham said police are not breaking down the doors of sick people who use marijuana for their symptoms.
“That’s not what the police are doing. They are overwhelmed with just all the other crime that’s out there,” he said.
Asked if he would prosecute a cancer patient who used marijuana, Graham said he would if police presented a case to him, but he said he has never seen that happen in 40 years in law enforcement.
Bryant and Channell said Wednesday their agencies would need more funding to handle bigger workloads if Issue 6 or 7 were to become law.
Also Wednesday, the coalition Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana unveiled an ad it said will appear on television statewide for the next week. The coalition said it spent about $50,000 on the ad.
In the 30-second spot, state Surgeon Greg Bledsoe says, “Mislabeling something doesn’t change what it really is. However, there are compounds within marijuana that could be potentially used to help patients with seizures. But this? It’s just drug abuse and it’s not medicine.”
The group Arkansans for Compassionate Care, which is sponsoring Issue 7, said Wednesday that supporters of that measure include Dr. Bill Piechal, who has been practicing chronic pain control in Fayetteville for 26 years, and retired internal medicine physician David Crittenden, who practiced privately in Fayetteville for 22 years and worked for the Veterans Administration in Fayetteville for five years.
“Patients shouldn’t have to suffer when there is a safe, effective and affordable medicine that can relieve their pain,” Piechal said in a news release.
“I’ve been working with patients for nearly 30 years to help manage their pain. Cannabis works well and it has far fewer side effects than opiates that are being used today. This is especially important in a state like Arkansas that ranks in the top 10 nationwide for opioid prescriptions,” he said.
A proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas was narrowly defeated in 2012.