LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas House on Tuesday approved a proposal to delay implementation of the state’s medical-marijuana program.
In a 91-0 vote, the House approved House Bill 1026 by Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, which would change the deadlines for the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission to set up a process for issuing licenses to dispensaries and cultivation facilities and for the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Department of Finance and Administration to adopt rules for overseeing the dispensaries and cultivation facilities.
Under the constitutional amendment voters approved in November to legalize medical marijuana, those deadlines are 120 days from the amendment’s Nov. 8 approval date. Under HB 1026, the deadlines would be extended to 180 days.
HB 1026 also would delay the deadline for the commission to begin accepting applications for dispensary and cultivation licenses from June 1 to July 1, the first day of the next fiscal year.
House said the measure would give the agencies needed extra time to prepare for the launch of the program. He said the backers of the amendment have no objection to the delay and said he was aware of no opposition to the measure.
The bill easily met the two-thirds majority vote threshold, 0r 67 votes in the 100-member House, needed for passage. It goes next to the Senate, where it also will require a two-thirds vote.
HB 1058, also by House, passed in a 70-23 vote, receiving three votes more than the minimum needed for passage. It also goes to the Senate.
HB 1058 would eliminate a requirement that a doctor recommending medical marijuana for a patient declare that the potential benefits of the medicinal use of the drug likely would outweigh any health risks for the patient.
Many doctors are not comfortable with being required to have that discussion with a patient, House said.
The bill also would change the medical-marijuana amendment so that medical information a patient submits to obtain medical marijuana would not be classified as a medical record subject to the federal Health Information Privacy Protection Act.
“We are just calling this a confidential record. They cannot be released to the public, but they are not termed as a medical record,” House said.
Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, and Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, asked House if federal law prohibits medical marijuana. House said it does.
Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, noted that the current administration has declined to enforce federal laws that bar medical marijuana in states that have approved it. But Ballinger spoke against HB 1058, saying he opposed removing the requirement that a doctor declare the potential benefits of medical marijuana likely would outweigh the risks.
“We do need to carry out the will of the people, but one thing that I don’t think that we can do is come in and make the judgment now to say, ‘Hey, that’s going to be really hard to do so we need to remove this one safeguard that was put in there,’” said Ballinger, who opposed the medical-marijuana amendment.
House, who also opposed the amendment, said, “It would be nice to say, ‘Well, y’all wrote the … amendment, we didn’t, it’s screwed up, that’s your problem, you figure it out.’ That’s not my charter. My charter is to make it work.”