by Phillip Smith
An Arkansas group is already gathering signatures to place a medical marijuana initiative on the November 2012 ballot, and now the effort is sparking a critical reaction from a local Christian conservative "traditional family values" organization. But medical marijuana backers say they have God on their side, too.
Arkansans for Compassionate Care won approval in April to circulate petitions for the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act. It needs to gather 62,507 valid voter signatures by next July to appear on the November 2012 ballot. The group said it plans to gather double the required number to provide a large cushion in case large numbers of signatures are found to be invalid.
The initiative would allow patients with serious illnesses like cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and PTSD whose doctors recommend medical marijuana to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Patients would obtain marijuana from one of up to 30 state-regulated dispensaries or, if they don't live near a dispensary, they or a designated caregiver could grow their own. Patients more than five miles from a dispensary could grow up to six plants.
"I've talked to dozens and dozens of patients across the state," the group's Ryan Denham told Fox 16 TV News Monday night. "People that suffer from debilitating medical conditions things like multiple sclerosis, cancer, hepatitis c, and the patients are really kind of just fed up with the fact that they have to break the law to get the medicine their doctor recommends," he said.
"There are no southern states that have legalized medical marijuana, so I think it would send definitely an important message nationally to the Congress that our system is broken and patients need access to medical marijuana. And just to be clear, we're not trying to decriminalize marijuana or to provide it recreationally, this is only for people that are sick or have terminally ill conditions," Denham clarified.
That's not good enough for the Little Rock-based Family Council Action Committee (FCAC), which issued a statement Tuesday expressing concern about the measure. The group describes itself as "standing up for traditional family values in the political arena" and references scripture as a guide. It is best known for sponsoring a failed 2008 initiative effort that would have barred gays from adopting children.
"Substance abuse creates very real problems for families," said FCAC President Jerry Cox in the statement. "If a husband or wife is addicted to something, it's going to put a strain on that marriage. It's going to put a strain on their kids. If you think we have problems with marijuana now, just wait until it becomes legally available," he warned.
"This law would make Arkansas one of the most liberal states in the nation, where marijuana is concerned," Cox continued. "And there are too many unanswered questions. How are we going to be sure medical marijuana grown in Arkansas isn't sold illegally across state lines? I've read marijuana can be cultivated with varying levels of active ingredients in it much the same way nicotine levels can be manipulated in tobacco. How are they going to keep marijuana growers from using that to make their product more potent or addictive?"
But if Cox thinks medical marijuana is the devil's weed, Arkansans for Compassionate Care is prepared to fight back. Its web site contains a Resources for the Faith Community page that begins with an exhortation form God to Zebediah to "Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another." The page then lists eight major religious denominations that support medical marijuana and their reasons for doing so.