Update: On October 27, 2016, the Arkansas State Supreme Court invalidated over 12,000 signatures for Issue 7, thereby disqualifying it from the 2016 ballot. As a result, ASA has revised its position of the competing measure Issue 6 from “neutral” to “support.” We are joining Issue 7 proponents Arkansans for Compassionate Care in their recommendation of voting yes on both Issue 6 and Issue 7. Under the current court decision, only votes for Issue 6 will be officially counted. However, the decision to invalidate Issue 7 is being appealed. To maximize the chances that at least one of the medical cannabis ballot measures passes in Arkansas, patient advocates would be wise to vote “yes” on both Issue 6 and Issue 7.
The program that would be created under Issue 6 may not be as strong for patients as Issue 7’s would have been, but the access created under Issue 6 would be of significant benefit to a great number of patients in Arkansas. Under the Issue 6 program, patients would be able to purchases up to 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis every 14 days from one of up to 40 dispensaries in the state. While the qualifying conditions language has harsh restrictions on access for pain patients, the Department of Health (DOH) can add new conditions and improve the pain condition language. Like all new medical cannabis programs, patients will need to be active in the rulemaking and implementation process. Since the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division will be regulating dispensaries (DOH regulates the patient component), patients will need to be vigilant that priorities of dispensary regulation are patient-focused rather than focused on revenue collection. Despite this areas of concern, Issue 6 would be a vast improvement for safe access in Arkansas.
Between the two approaches, ASA prefers Issue 7 over Issue 6 for patients for several reasons, including significantly better qualifying conditions language and home cultivation access for patients who live more than 20 miles from a dispensary. Additionally, Issue 7 has better provisions for patients regarding the number of dispensaries and prevents localities from banning retail access for patients. But given that the courts have disqualified Issue 7, the program that would be created under Issue 6 is still a vast improvement upon the status quo.