LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday he would ask lawmakers to approve providing $3 million from the state’s rainy day fund to the state Department of Finance and Administration and the state Department of Health to cover start-up costs for implementing a medical-marijuana program.
By a margin of 53 percent for to 47 percent against, Arkansas voters approved Tuesday a constitutional amendment legalizing the sale and use of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions, with a doctor’s recommendation.
Hutchinson, who opposed the measure, told reporters at the state Capitol he did not get the vote he wanted, but he said his administration will comply with the will of the voters.
”The people voted this in, and I intend to implement it according to the will of the people of Arkansas,” he said. “But the people of Arkansas also expect me to do it right, to do it in a way that protects our children, to do it in a way that minimizes the problems that we have been very concerned about. That’s what the regulations are about.”
Hutchinson said he is seeking to provide $525,000 to DFA and the rest of the $3 million to the Health Department.
The amendment requires the creation of a new five-member commission, with one member appointed by Hutchinson, two by the House speaker and two by the Senate president pro tem. The commission must establish a process for issuing licenses to dispensaries and be issuing licenses by June 1.
The state Alcohol Beverage Control Division of DFA is required to establish rules for the operation of marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities and to inspect the facilities to ensure they comply with the rules.
The Health Department is required to create a process for patients or their caregivers to apply for and receive registration cards allowing the patients to obtain medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.
Marijuana sales will be subject to state and local sales taxes, with state tax revenue being divided between vocational and technical institutes, 50 percent; the state General Revenue Fund, 30 percent; a fund for workforce skills training, 10 percent; the Health Department 5 percent; ABC, 4 percent; and the new commission, 1 percent.
Before the election, Hutchinson argued that the measure would not generate enough sales tax revenue to cover its costs. Little Rock lawyer David Couch said Wednesday he expects marijuana sales and license fees to generate enough revenue to cover all costs and create a multimillion-dollar annual surplus — but if not, the Legislature can raise fees and adjust the distribution of tax revenue accordingly, he said.
Florida and North Dakota also approved measures Tuesday to legalize medical marijuana. Couch said he believes the day will be looked back upon as “the tipping point” when even a Southern, “hard red” state like Arkansas joined the majority of states that have legalized medical marijuana.
Couch said the passage of the amendment means that patients who could benefit from marijuana will be able to obtain it legally, and that Arkansas will have not only a new source of tax revenue but also 800 new jobs and new businesses that will provide services to the dispensaries.
“We did the right thing. We’re taking care of our sick friends and neighbors, and by the way it’s going to be a real good economic boon to the state of Arkansas,” he said.