Arkansas Goes to Pot 

On November 8, 2016, 53 percent of Arkansas voters approved Issue 6, a medical marijuana initiative. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment enables Arkansans to use and safely obtain medical marijuana with their doctors' approval. The amendment establishes between four and eight cultivation facility licenses and up to 40 dispensaries statewide, all regulated by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division.

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In the recently completed 2017 legislative session, several changes were made to the original initiative, including a 60-day delay from the original law's June 1st start date for when patients can begin applying for ID cards and a 30-day delay for when businesses can apply for dispensary licenses. The delays are expected to push the start date for when marijuana can begin to be prescribed into the fall of 2017.

The legislature also enacted a change in the law that is designed to increase doctors' participation. Physicians will not have to certify that the benefits of medical cannabis outweigh the potential harm to patient. Under the amendment, Arkansas doctors can now simply certify any patient for the program if they confirm he or she has a legitimate qualifying condition.

Those conditions include: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Tourette's syndrome, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, PTSD, severe arthritis, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer's disease, or the treatment of any of these conditions. In addition, patients with doctors' certifications qualify if they have a chronic or debilitating medical condition (or its treatment) that produces cachexia or wasting syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, intractable pain that has not responded to other treatment for at least six months, severe nausea, seizures, and severe or persistent muscle spasms. The Arkansas Department of Health has the authority to approve new qualifying conditions.

Registration fees, paid to the health department, will be required of patients, caregivers, and cannabis facilities. Cannabis will also be subject to all existing sales taxes, the revenue from which will be distributed to the health department, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration Division, the newly established Medical Marijuana Commission, the Skill Development Fund, and to vocational and technical training. Any leftover funds will be used to provide cannabis on a sliding scale to patients who are unable to afford a sufficient supply.

It will still be illegal to use marijuana in various locations, including schools, daycare centers, correctional facilities, and other public spaces. It will also still be illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of pot. Cities and counties also may pass reasonable zoning restrictions for dispensaries and growing facilities. In fact, local entities can even prohibit such facilities via a popular vote.

But ... it is happening. Marijuana is going to become legal in Arkansas this fall, right across the Mississippi River from the Bluff City. The Natural State will begin immediately reaping the financial benefits and increased tax revenues of a sane (and inevitable) marijuana policy, much to detriment of Tennessee, which remains mired in the past, wasting millions of dollars prosecuting and imprisoning folks for what is, at worst, a victimless crime — and, at best, a useful medical treatment for millions.

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