2019 Session: Bill to expand medical marijuana access fails to take root

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The push to add almost 40 qualifying conditions to the state’s medical marijuana program could not clear its first hurdle Wednesday. 

When it came time for members of the House Rules Committee to make a motion for HB 1150, no one did, which the bill’s sponsor said effectively killed it.  

There are 18 approved qualfiying conditions under current law, from cancer to severe arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease. The health department can approve others, but St. Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, said applicants have found the process to be unsuccessful. 

House’s legislation would have added dozens more, including asthma, ADD, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease and traumatic brain injury. He said this new list of conditions came from Arkansans who are already using cannabis products to treat them.

“It boils down to this: these people are going to buy cannabis on the street, which case it’s polluted with pesticides, herbicides, bugs, mold, mildew,” House said. “Or they’re going to go to Oklahoma and buy some products, which are not much better if they are, or they’re going to go to Colorado.”

Dr. Nate Smith, the health department’s director, and Dr. Greg Bledsoe, the state’s surgeon general, spoke against the legislation, saying Gov. Asa Hutchinson also opposed it.

The duo made the argument that the symptoms for the list of proposed qualifying conditions are already covered under the 18 current ones. They also said while there may not be research that shows how medical marijuana helps patients, there are studies that show its hurt.

However, a dozen Arkansans spoke for the propsal, arguing either themselves or their loved ones should have access to quality medical marijuana to treat their conditions. After the committee’s silence on the issue, one of them promised a push for recreational marijuana in 2020.

“Those that have been against the medical and against this have themselves to blame,” said Melissa Fults, a medical marijuana patient and advocate. “Because they have waited for two and a half years, because they have not allowed more patients to be on this program, they have done nothing but force patients to push recreational so that they can get the medicine they need.”

After the committee meeting, the health department sent out a public health advisory on marijuana to “warn arkansans about the risks of harm associated with use of products derived from cannabis, including marijuana and hemp, that claim to benefit health.”

Arkansans will soon be able to buy medical marijuana in the Natural State more than two years after voters approved it.

The health department started issuing ID cards last week to the 7,000 approved patients. They take effect Feb. 15.

The product should be available by April. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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