Opinion

As of March 13, the Arkansas state Senate plans to further regulate medicinal cannabis with the passage of Senate Bill 440. This bill would have originally banned the sale of all edibles, but was amended to only ban edibles that look like popular candies.

Arkansas legislature is needlessly focusing on prohibiting access to medicinal cannabis when, more than two years after its passage, Arkansans are still waiting for the actual product of the legislation. This is precisely why voters should push to legalize the drug outright.

Senate Bill 440 is not the first restriction on the cannabis ballot initiative, and it certainly won’t be the last. House Bill 1400, introduced by Representative Robin Lundstrum (R-Springdale) on February 26, made it illegal to smoke medicinal cannabis in your car or on a boat.  Arkansas politicians have deemed these bills necessary, despite the fact our state has been frustratingly slow in even getting a new form of medicine to those that need it.

Considering that the House even voted to delay the roll out of the medicinal cannabis back in 2017, Arkansas legislators have behaved as though he will of the people is their last priority. Though Arkansans are finally only a few weeks from seeing the opening of state dispensaries, the satisfaction is dulled because of the long wait that patients have had to endure.

Arkansans in need have suffered without access to medicinal cannabis for over two years and our legislators seem to have little regard for their wellbeing. Studies on cannabis have indicated that the drug can dull the effects of nausea, pain in cancer patients and anxiety, but Arkansas legislature has totally disregarded those positive effects.

For comparison, Oklahoma legalized medicinal cannabis in June 2018 and opened three dispensaries within only five months. They offered not only 12 different strains of the drug but also edibles and vaping options. Meanwhile, the incompetency of Arkansas’ legislators shines as, two years after legalization, citizens wait for even one dispensary to open.

Ideally, Arkansas legislators would do what so many other states have done and simply legalize cannabis for everyone, regardless of medical necessity. For people living in Colorado or Oregon, gone are trivial worries about card usage and dispensary medicinal concerns. Everyone in those states has access and can figure out if this medicinal herb works for them.

Additionally, those in jail for minor cannabis-linked offenses could be released back into society and the government wouldn’t need to spend our tax dollars on housing them. After all, our state’s law prohibiting the use of cannabis is actually one of the harshest in the country, and Arkansas prisons are already overcrowded. Cannabis simply is not as addictive as alcohol or tobacco, and the use of it definitely should not be considered a criminal offense.

Instead of wasting time on prohibitive legislation and spending tax dollars on detaining people who are consuming a relatively harmless substance, the Arkansas government could be making and spending money on state public schools and other important social programs.

Moreover, the inevitable economic boon to the state would far outweigh any possible negative effects. Luckily for Arkansans, the Drug Education Group is actually preparing a ballot initiative for legalized cannabis in 2020.

Arkansans that are waiting around for state legislators to restore residents’ drug consumption rights need to stop waiting. For years now, Arkansas legislators have actively worked against the will of the people and they aren’t even attempting to hide it.

The ineptitude with which they have approached medicinal cannabis should not be a deterrent, though. In fact, the leisurely pace of Arkansas legislators should be cause enough to make Arkansans demand access to legalized cannabis overall, and if legalized cannabis appears on the ballot, Arkansans should utilize their electoral agency and allow no room for procrastination or going back.

 

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