Voters in Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Montana to Decide on Safe Access

On Election Day this year, voters may bring about the 18th and 19th medical cannabis states and preserve safe access in an existing medical cannabis state. Arkansas' Issue 5 and Massachusetts's' Question 3 would bring about a regulated medical cannabis system to each state. By contrast, voters in Montana are voting on whether to largely restore the original medical cannabis program approved by ballot measure approved by state voters back in 2004. This year's Montana referendum, IR-124 will determine whether or not the sharp restrictions on access approved by SB 423 (2011) will be upheld.

Below is a brief rundown of each of the 2012 statewide medical cannabis ballot measures.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, "Issue 5"

A "YES" vote will bring safe access to Arkansas. The AMMA was organized by Arkansans for Compassionate Care and would establish a system of up to 30 non-profit dispensaries throughout the state. Patients and their caregivers who get a recommendation from their doctor with whom they have a bonafide physician-patient relationship and then obtain a registration card from state Department of Health will be protected from arrest if they meet stay within the scope of law. Eligible conditions include: Cancer, Glaucoma, positive status for Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS), Hepatitis C, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Tourette’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Fibromyalgia, agitation of Alzheimer’s Disease or the treatment of chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following: cachexia or Wasting Syndrome; peripheral neuropathy; intractable pain, which is pain that has not responded to ordinary medications, treatment or surgical measures for more than 6 months; severe nausea; seizures, including those characteristic of Epilepsy; or severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of Multiple Sclerosis. Patients who live more than 5 miles away from a dispensary have the option to cultivate their own cannabis.

If passed, the AMMA will allow patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable medical cannabis, or it's equivalent in other prepared forms, such as edibles, tinctures and topicals. Patients and caregivers can purchase up to 2.5 ounces of medical within a 15-day period Stems, seeds, and non-cannabis ingredients in preparations do not count to the weight under this law. Dispensaries must operate in strict accordance with state regulation. Patients who live more than 5 miles from a dispensary may choose to cultivate their own medicine if they apply for designated status from the state. For those with designated cultivation statues, they may be in possession of up to 6 flowering cannabis plants, however, they are still subject to the limit of 2.5 ounces of usable medicine in their possession at any given time. Visiting patients who have legal status as a patient in their home state would be granted reciprocity for 30 days while visiting Arkansas.

The AMMA contains provisions that prevent discrimination by employers, landlords, schools, as well protections for those on an organ transplant list. Physicians are also protected by the law and may be not be punished criminally or face professional sanction simply for recommending medical cannabis to their patients when appropriate. Physicians may recommend medical cannabis to patients under 18 years of age when their parent or legal guardian has been given informed consent and agrees to be their caregiver.

Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative, "Question 3"

A "YES" vote will bring safe access to Massachusetts. Question 3 would allow qualifying patients and caregivers in Massachusetts who possess a valid state registration card to be protected from arrest if they are in possession of no more than 60-day supply of medicine. While a "60-day supply" is not determined by the law, the state Department of Public Health would be required to determine what a presumptive 60-day supply is within 4 months of passage of the initiative, however, patients who have a medical need for a greater 60-day supply than what the state declares for the presumptive minimum may possess whatever is medically necessary and is supported by evidence. While several conditions are specifically mentioned by the ballot language, the law would also permit for "other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician," meaning doctors, not bureaucrats, will decide when cannabis is most appropriate for medical therapy.

The measure would allow up 35 non-profit dispensaries in the state, with a minimum of 1 per county, and a max of 5 per county. Patients who can demonstrate hardship need, such as financial, physical incapacity, or lack of reasonable proximity to a dispensary may apply for the right to cultivate cannabis at their own residence.

If a patient or caregiver engages in fraud by using their medical cannabis registration card, they are subject to a $500 fine and up to 6 months in a house of correction. However, if misuse of a card includes illegal distribution, it can carry a 5-year prison sentence.

Montana Medical Marijuana Veto Referendum, "IR-124"

This situation in Montana is a bit confusing, as a "NO" vote on IR-124 will help restore the greatest level of safe access in Montana. A "NO" vote on this statewide referendum would repeal SB 423 (2011), which stripped away I-148, the 2004 voter approved medical cannabis law which permitted dispensaries. Patients for Reform, Not Repeal are encouraging patients to vote "NO" on IR-124.

Until recently, a court injunction upheld the 2004 voter approved law, however, since the September 11th state supreme court ruling, the state has begun to enforce certain aspect of SB 423. Most notably, the state has begun to sending letters to caregivers informing them that they may only cultivate medicine for 3 patients. Another damaging aspect of SB 423 is its heighten requirements for patients suffering from chronic pain, as they must jump through several additional and burdensome hoops to acquire and maintain legal status as medical cannabis patient. Moreover, the dispensary system is effectively shut down by SB 423, as no medical cannabis can be exhanged for anything of value. As if that weren't bad enough, SB 423 could result in a chilling effect for doctors who are willing to recommend medical cannabis, as they now are subject to investigation should they recommend cannabis to more than 25 of their patients.

The two major gubernatorial candidates have weighed in on the IR-124 question. It has been reported that current Attorney General Steve Bullock will vote against IR-124 while his Republican challenger, Rick Hill plans to vote in favor of IR-124.

In order to restore safe access in Montana, patients and their loved ones must remember that a "NO" vote is necessary on IR-124.

Mike Liszewski is ASA's Policy Director.