LITTLE ROCK — Passage of a ballot issue that would legalize marijuana for medical use in the state could lead to "marijuana vending machines," an opponent of the proposal claimed Tuesday, a charge the measure’s supporters denied.
Jerry Cox, leader of the Family Council Action Committee, said he recently learned that one of the ways marijuana is dispensed to patients in California is through dispensing machines. He questioned whether similar machines would be set up in Arkansas if voters approve the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, also known as Issue 5.
"It’s just yet another way to put more marijuana in the hands of the public. These machines … don’t run 8 to 5. They run 24/7," Cox said during a state Capitol news conference, standing next to a cardboard cutout of a marijuana dispensing machine like those used in parts of California.
A large marijuana leaf on the cutout apparently was added by the Family Council.
Cox acknowledged that there is no language in the proposal allowing marijuana to be dispensed through machines, but he said the proposal does not prohibit the machines either.
"If the act doesn’t prohibit it, then we have to assume that it’s allowed," he said.
Chris Kell, spokesman for the group sponsoring the measure, Arkansas for Compassionate Care, said Cox’s claim is "simply not true."
"That’s like saying because we didn’t exclude cocaine, we’re going to be selling cocaine," he said.
Kell said the 8,700-word proposal on Arkansas’ general election ballot is "nothing like" California’s four-sentence law on medical marijuana. Under Arkansas’ ballot proposal, marijuana could be dispensed at no more than 30 dispensaries, and only to people with certain specific health conditions, he said.
The initiative calls for the state Health Department to establish rules and regulations governing marijuana transactions. Kell said he did not believe the Health Department would approve dispensing machines like those in California, but if it did, the machines would not increase access to marijuana beyond patients who are approved to use it.
The machines in California are only allowed at marijuana dispensaries and require a security-coded patient ID card to operate, he said.
Cox provided reporters with a copy of a letter from state Sens. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, and Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, asking Attorney General Dustin McDaniel for an opinion on whether Issue 5 would allow marijuana to be dispensed to patients through machines. McDaniel said later Tuesday he would not issue an opinion on a measure that is before voters.
Also Tuesday, Arkansas for Compassionate Care held a news conference in Fayetteville to announce that a coalition of 12 clergy members from across the state has formed to support Issue 5.
"I am proud to be among the faith leaders who have endorsed the use of medical marijuana by seriously ill patients," the Rev. Howard Gordon, minister emeritus at First Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, said in a news release.
"We are compassionate people by nature, and Issue 5, at its core, is about compassion. Arkansans must look beyond the scare tactics used by opponents of the measure and appreciate that there are less fortunate members of society who truly need marijuana to alleviate their suffering," Gordon said.
A coalition of Arkansas doctors has formed to oppose the proposed initiated act. Other groups opposing the measure include the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association, Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police and Arkansas Pharmacists Association.