LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Pharmacists Association announced its opposition to a ballot proposal to legalize marijuana for medical use Monday, saying it omits pharmacists and creates a direct conflict with federal law.
"The APA believes that if marijuana is legalized in Arkansas, pharmacists should be the health care professionals who dispense the medication, not unlicensed, untrained individuals who work in ‘marijuana dispensaries,’" APA Executive Vice President Mark Riley said in a release. "Pharmacists are highly educated health care professionals who understand the pharmacology of medications, including marijuana. There are Arkansas licensed pharmacies in 74 of Arkansas’s 75 counties providing access for patients throughout the state."
Under the proposed initiated act, up to 30 medical marijuana dispensaries would be allowed in the state, but cities and counties would have the option of banning them. The marijuana would only be available to people with prescriptions for certain health conditions, including chronic pain, glaucoma, hepatitis C and those who are terminally ill.
The proposal would allow limited cultivation of marijuana by a patient, or the patient’s designated caregiver, if the patient lives more than five miles from a dispensary.
Riley noted that pharmacies and pharmacists are highly regulated by the Arkansas State Board of Pharmacy, whose regulatory oversight establishes procedures for dispensing prescriptions in Arkansas, as well as the storage and security regulations that are required of pharmacies in the state.
The non-profit dispensaries that would be created under the medical marijuana proposal would not be regulated by the pharmacy board, and "with lack of such extensive oversight, patient safety and the security of the drug itself may be in jeopardy," Riley said.
Also, approval of the measure would place Arkansas at odds with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration regulations that classify marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, the APA said. It said if the state wishes to legalize marijuana, then the first step should be to pursue DEA regulatory changes to declassify marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance.
The APA represents about 2,200 pharmacists in the state.
A spokesman for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group sponsoring the proposal, said the announcement was disappointing but not surprising.
"It seems like the only people that are opposed to this are the ones who won’t make a profit off of it," spokesman Chris Kell said. "It will hurt big pharmacy because people will be able to use one drug and not several others that pharmacies make a profit off of it."
"I’ve talked to conservative Christians and and liberal Democrats all across the state. It’s got wider support than any other campaign I’ve ever worked on," according to Kell, who said he has been involved in Arkansas campaigns ranging from local races to other ballot initiatives to presidential races.
The pharmacy association joins the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values, an alliance of Christian conservative groups, in formally announcing opposition to the medical marijuana proposal. The coalition previously announced a grassroots campaign as well as television ads to defeat the measure.
Kell said Monday his group has a "full-on" campaign of its own, with workers promoting the measure at county fairs and other events around the state. He said the group also plans TV ads and is finalizing details of a rally Thursday featuring television personality Montel Williams at a rally Thursday.