LITTLE ROCK — A state House member says he is working on legislation that would delay the implementation deadlines for the state’s medical-marijuana program, and a state senator says he is considering filing a bill to change the way marijuana tax revenue is distributed.
Voters last week approved a constitutional amendment requiring the state to create a system for dispensing marijuana to patients with certain medical conditions, with doctors’ recommendations. The amendment requires the state Department of Health to create a process for applying for registration cards for qualifying patients and establishing labeling and testing standards for marijuana within 120 days of the amendment’s passage.
The amendment also requires the creation of a five-member commission, with one member appointed by the governor, two by the House speaker and two by the Senate president pro tem. The commission is required to set up a process for issuing licenses to dispensaries and cultivation facilities within 120 days of the amendment’s passage and to begin accepting applications for licenses by June 1.
Also, the amendment requires the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Department of Finance and Administration to adopt rules for overseeing the dispensaries and cultivation facilities within 120 days of the amendment’s passage.
Rep Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, said Friday he is working on a bill that would change the 120-day deadlines to 180 days and change the June 1 deadline to July 1. He said the governor’s office has asked him to run the bill for the sake of state agencies that believe they cannot meet the deadlines in the amendment.
“They say they cannot get it all done and comply with the Administrative Procedures Act and get all of the necessary steps taken within 120 days of Nov. 8. They said they really need 180 days to get it done and get it done correctly,” House said, adding that a July 1 launch date for the program would be more convenient than a June 1 launch date because July 1 is the first day of the next fiscal year.
House also said that delaying the deadlines would ensure an opportunity for public participation and transparency in the process.
The amendment allows the Legislature to make modifications with at least a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers. House said he is confident he can obtain that level of support.
Little Rock lawyer David Couch, who wrote the amendment, said Friday when asked about the changes being considered, “I don’t have a problem with that at all.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, who said he “adamantly” opposed the medical-marijuana measure, is considering filing a bill to change the amendment to direct some sales tax revenue generated by marijuana sales to a dedicated fund that would pay for an income tax reduction.
The amendment currently requires marijuana sales tax revenue to be distributed as follows: 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.
“This (amendment) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it will be a significant burden on the taxpayer, so my intent is to turn it into at least a wash for the average taxpayer who is going to see their community decline, who is going to see their police forces distracted,” Hester said Friday.
Couch said he was concerned about Hester’s idea.
“I think that’s outrageous, to tax sick people to pay for a wealthy person’s income tax cut,” he said.
Hester said, “I would beg to differ that this is going to sick people. Anyone that says they have back pain is going to have a card. … This is a lead-in to open marijuana.”