LITTLE ROCK — Legalizing medical marijuana would be bad policy and bad for patients, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and representatives of several Arkansas hospitals and medical organizations said Monday.
“The initiatives that will be on the ballot do not lead to good medicine,” Hutchinson said in a news conference at the state Capitol. “It is not good medical practice, and it is not best for the patient.”
Joining the governor in the news conference were state Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe and representatives of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the Arkansas Medical Society, the Arkansas Hospital Association, the Family Physician Association, the Pharmacy Association, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, the state Department of Health and Arkansas Heart Hospital.
Two issues on the November ballot would legalize medical marijuana, one through a constitutional amendment and one through an initiated act. A coalition of groups including the Family Council Action Committee, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation and the state Chamber of Commerce has filed lawsuits challenging both measures.
“If you love big tobacco, you’ll love big marijuana, because big marijuana is simply big tobacco painted green,” Bledsoe said Monday. “Over the past 10 years a heavily funded national campaign has been orchestrated to convince the American people that marijuana is both safe and that it’s medicine. It’s neither of these things.”
Bledsoe acknowledged that there are compounds in marijuana that have shown some promise as therapies.
“We should be actively researching marijuana, squeezing every bit of medicinal benefit from this plant,” he said. “But the correct way to do this is by isolating these compounds, purifying them and then dosing them appropriately to safely give them to patients.”
The Food and Drug Administration’s approval process has already produced pharmaceuticals from marijuana “and is poised to offer others in the future,” he said.
Dr. Rick Smith, psychiatrist and addiction specialist at UAMS, said, “Marijuana is a gateway drug to the use of other drugs and abuse, especially for adolescents and young adults. The more marijuana we have available in our state, either legally or illegally, the more marijuana will be used by our adolescents and adults, thus the more substance abuse of all types we will have in our state.”
UAMS Chancellor Dr. Dan Rahn said the top ethical rule for doctors is “First, do no harm.”
“All of the organizations that have looked at marijuana as a plant to be used therapeutically have said that there is not sufficient demonstrated evidence to warrant its recommendation for use in the face of known harmful side effects,” he said.
Little Rock lawyer David Couch, sponsor of the proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana, said Monday, “These same physicians opposed it in 2012. There are as many if not more physicians who support it. No doctor is required to prescribe it. If a physician believes it is appropriate for his patient then that’s his medical judgment. It should be respected.”
Melissa Fults, campaign manager for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the sponsor of the proposed initiated act to legalize medical marijuana, said, “Since 2012, Arkansas citizens have become more aware of the benefits of medical cannabis based on reports from the nation’s top doctors, like Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who in 2013 completely reversed his opinion on cannabis. Numerous studies show the efficacy of medical cannabis — and now that the current administration has opened the door for even more testing, we’re certain to see more studies come out that show the benefits of cannabis as medicine.”