Medical Marijuana and Medicaid expansion were on the agenda Monday as Gov. Asa Hutchinson talked with reporters at the State Capitol about the upcoming legislative session.
With the state’s passage of the medical marijuana act on Nov. 8, the state has been placed in the position of trying to write regulations to control a product that the federal government still classifies as illegal and with no medical value, which raises a number of questions. Two questions posed to Hutchinson Monday dealt with gun ownership and bank regulations as they relate to marijuana.
“It still remains a violation under federal law,” said Hutchinson. “The Obama administration under Deputy Attorney General James Cole gave two memos, one outlining that they will not have a vigorous enforcement policy on states with different marijuana laws, including recreational marijuana laws, and including medical marijuana. It was followed by a second memo dealing with the financial and the banking aspect of it.”
Hutchinson said the current policy under the Obama administration won’t necessarily be continued under the incoming Trump administration.
“That is the starting point for discussions as how that will impact what we’re attempting to do here in Arkansas under the public’s guidance and the adoption of the amendment,” he said.
Asked if medical marijuana recipients should be able to buy firearms, Hutchinson appeared to be caught off guard.
“I’m not prepared to answer that question,” he responded, after a long pause. “I think that first of all there’s a challenge that there have to be some controls on purchasing a weapon with anybody who is under any kind of medication that might not put them in a position to operate machinery, for example, or operate a firearm. So there are some concerns that have to be addressed. That is a federal question as to whether someone with a medical marijuana card should be able to buy a firearm so we’ll look for federal guidance on that.”
Hutchinson also announced his intention to ask the Legislature.
When asked about the fate of Medicaid expansion in the event the Affordable Care Act is repealed, Hutchinson said his recommendation would be to replace the federal money currently coming to the state that pays 90 percent of the cost to be given in the form of block grants to the states.
“We would manage the Medicaid population; we’ve got to look at what would be the proper amount of that block grant and that’s what would have to be negotiated,” he said, adding that states could be given a lump sum with guidelines on its use.
“You could help determine who would get those Medicaid benefits,” he said, “so I would approach it in a different way."