LITTLE ROCK — If Little Rock lawyer David Couch’s proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas qualifies for the ballot, it will compete with another measure on the same issue — which Couch says would be fine but a backer of the other measure says would doom both proposals.

LITTLE ROCK — If Little Rock lawyer David Couch’s proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas qualifies for the ballot, it will compete with another measure on the same issue — which Couch says would be fine but a backer of the other measure says would doom both proposals.


Couch said he submitted more than 106,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office Friday in support of his proposed constitutional amendment. He said he does not expect to meet the 84,859 signature threshold with his first submission, but he expects to qualify for a 30-day cure period and collect enough signatures then to qualify for the ballot.


A rival proposal to legalize medical-marijuana sponsored by the group Arkansans for Compassionate Care has met the 67,887 signature threshold for a proposed initiated act. Melissa Fults of East End, the group’s campaign director, has repeatedly asked Couch to abandon his proposal, but Couch has said he will not.


Couch and Fults have worked together in the past, first on an ethics-reform proposal and then on a medical-marijuana proposal that made it onto the 2012 ballot but was narrowly defeated. Well before the election, Couch parted ways with Arkansans for Compassionate Care over disagreements on the proposal’s details.


Proposed initiated act


The proposal by Arkansans for Compassionate Care would direct the state Department of Health to license and regulate nonprofit "cannabis care centers" which would cultivate and dispense medical marijuana for patients with certain medical conditions, if the patients have doctors’ recommendations and licenses from the Health Department.


The Health Department could license no more than one care center for every 20 pharmacies in the state — which the group says would be 38 now — unless the department decides more are needed to provide convenient access across the state.


A patient or a patient’s designated caregiver who lives more than 20 miles from a care center could apply for a certificate allowing him or her to grow a limited amount of marijuana for the patient’s personal use.


Marijuana sales would be subject to all state and local taxes, with tax revenue going to fund the Health Department’s expenses in running the marijuana program.


Any revenue above expenses would be used to reduce the price of marijuana for low-income patients, on a sliding scale. Up to 1 percent of the gross revenue of each care center also would go to reducing prices for low-income patients.


Proposed amendment


Couch’s proposal would allow the creation of up to eight marijuana cultivation facilities and up to 40 marijuana dispensaries. An independent citizens commission would determine who would be awarded licenses to operate the for-profit facilities, with no one individual allowed to own an interest in more than one.


The dispensaries could provide marijuana to patients who have certain medical conditions, if the patients have doctors’ recommendations and registry identification cards issued by the Health Department.


The Health Department would be responsible for maintaining an electronic database to keep track of who is receiving marijuana and how much they receive. The state Alcohol Beverage Control Division would be responsible for inspecting the dispensaries and cultivation facilities to make sure they comply with all applicable rules and regulations.


Marijuana sales would be subject to all state and local taxes, with tax revenue being divided between 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; the administrative division of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, 2 percent; the enforcement division of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, 2 percent; and the new citizens commission, 1 percent.


The proposed amendment states that any of its provisions except the ones making medical marijuana legal and allowing the creation of cultivation facilities and dispensaries can be changed by the state Legislature with a two-thirds vote.


Sponsors clash


"My proposal is going to protect patients better," Fults said in an interview last week.


She said Couch’s proposal includes fewer qualifying medical conditions and has no affordability provision for low-income patients, no hardship provision for patients who live far from a dispensary and no maximum license fee for patients.


"His has 10 percent of the sales tax is all that goes to his program," Fults said. "The money has to come from somewhere, and either the patients are going to pay an exorbitant amount for a license or the state’s going to have to come up with money. And he has not one but three entities that have to be paid. Ours, 100 percent of the sales tax goes to pay for the program. We only have one entity, which is the Health Department."


Couch said, "I sympathize with the fact that there are people that might not have access to this, but that’s the same with any medication. There are people that can’t afford other medications. And my act, the Medical Marijuana Amendment, allows for delivery. … The dispensers can deliver it, or you can find somebody that agrees to be your designated caregiver who’ll go get it for you. So we’re not leaving people out."


Couch said he is confident his proposal would cost the state nothing and allow for reasonable costs to patients. He said his for-profit model for dispensaries is more likely to work than Fults’ nonprofit model.


Fults said she believes her proposal would pass if it had no competition on the ballot. She said many political analysts agree that "one or the other of them will pass with no problem, but with both of them on the ballot, they will both fail, and that’s heartbreaking."


Couch said he believes Fults’ proposal will "drag on mine somewhat," but not enough to make it fail. He said polls show strong support in Arkansas for legalizing medical marijuana, but "the proposal with grow-your-own does not poll above 50 percent."


Conservative group opposes both


Jerry Cox, executive director of the Christian conservative Family Council Action Committee, has said the committee will campaign against any medical-marijuana proposals on the ballot.


"The end result if either measure passes will be terrible for the people of Arkansas," he said in a statement Friday. "Neither measure is medicine. There is no prescription from a doctor. Marijuana won’t be dispensed through pharmacies. No one will regulate the dosage, strength or content. Anyone with pain or nausea can qualify to use it."