Medical Marijuana Commission High On Progress Even As Bills Threaten Its Existence

Feb 8, 2017

 

Lawyers Robert Brech of the Arkansas Department of Health and Joel DiPippa and Lauren Ballard of the Department of Finance and Administration
Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Tuesday's meeting of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana was business as usual even as House and Senate committees take up bills today that could  redirect the Commission's momentum.

The commission meeting began with a presentation by Lauren Ballard, revenue legal counsel at the Department of Finance and Administration, on what litigation followed from other states'  medical marijuana programs--cautionary tales for these five commissioners, only one of whom, Travis Story of Fayetteville, is a lawyer. 

Much of the discussion again revolved around the idea of how much in cash or surety bond a marijuana cultivation facility or dispensary should hold in escrow, and again, Dr. Carlos Roman and Story were both at opposite ends of the table and at odds. This particular debate had to do with when the state would release its claim to the surety bond, presumably because the facility is safely operating in the black. 

Fayetteville lawyer Travis Story
Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

"I don’t see the upside to [more] regulation," Roman said, 'it’s a burden."

"My thing is, the burden’s already there, this is just when we release the burden," Story said. 

 "If they’re up and doing business, release the bond," Roman said. Dispensary and facility licenses are expected to be just one year, and Story said one year was an appropriate time for the state to lay claim to the bond for a new facility.

 The meeting ended on an lighter and more uplifting note: When all of the interested parties, dozens of whom filled the conference room inside the fifth floor of 1515 W. 7 th St., could expect a public hearing. The answer is, a final first draft of the rules could be presented within two weeks. At that point a public hearing would be scheduled, perhaps by early March. And where?

"War Memorial Stadium," Roman called out.

 "Verizon Arena," someone echoed.

"You know, War Memorial Stadium may not be a bad idea with this amount of public interest," Finance and Administration chief counsel Joel DiPippa said.

 The deadline for their final draft of rules is May 8, and chief counsel DiPippa says they’re on track.

KILLER BILL

Of course, at noon today the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor may take up Senate Bill 238 sponsored by Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow), which would delay medical marijuana in the state until the federal government legalizes it.

Two more bills by state Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Springdale) would ban both the smoking, and the eating (or even drinking), of marijuana by registered patients.

"You can't eat it, you can't smoke it — we're going to be the only rectal medical marijuana state in the country," Roman, an anesthesiologist, said after the meeting.

Similarly, the House Select Committee on Rules plans to take up seven bills sponsored by Rep. Doug House (R- North Little Rock), all on medical marijuana. None of these though are meant to debilitate the program.

Arkansans voted Nov. 8 for medical marijuana by a margin of about 6-7 percent. 

Anesthesiologist Carlos Roman of Little Rock
Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

So far the commission's steered clear of these existential medical marijuana debates, but at least one member, Roman, said lawmakers should take their lead from voters.

"The people voted for it, again I didn’t vote for the bill but the people voted for it. Let’s do this in the safest, fairest way we can, make it successful. I mean, I don’t think it does well for legislators to come in and subvert something the people of Arkansas voted for."

The Senate committee meets at 10 a.m. in Room 272 of the Capitol, the House committee at noon in the MAC building.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State News with Context.