LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The state on Tuesday could become the first Bible Belt state to legalize Arkansas medical marijuana, which advocates of the drug say would be proof of its popularity even in conservative parts of the country.
The fight over medical marijuana has overshadowed the presidential race in the deeply conservative state, four years after voters narrowly rejected a similar effort. Recent polls showed Arkansans to be sharply divided over the proposed constitutional amendment, which would allow patients to buy marijuana from licensed dispensaries.
Half of the states have legalized medical marijuana, but Arkansas would be the first Bible Belt state to do so if voters approve the ballot measure. Voters on Tuesday are also considering legalizing or expanding the use of medical marijuana in three other states considering legalizing the recreational use of the drug in five states.
Supporters of the Arkansas measure say it would help patients suffering from a number of conditions that can’t otherwise be treated as effectively. Opponents, including the state Chamber of Commerce, the state Hospital Association and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who once headed the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, have said legalizing medical marijuana would be a drain on state resources and make it harder for employers to enforce drug-free workplaces.
Support didn’t appear to fall along party lines among voters Tuesday. John Meador, a Republican from Little Rock, said he voted to legalize medical marijuana and wasn’t swayed by opponents’ warnings that it would open the door to the recreational use of the drug.
“The state’s going to regulate it and I trust the state to do a pretty good job on that,” said Meador, 73.
But David Krucas, a Republican who moved to Arkansas from Colorado within the past year, said he opposed the measure after seeing how legalizing recreational marijuana affected that state.
“While I think it’s pretty much inevitable that it’s going to be legalized in most of the country, I really don’t agree with it,” said Krucas, 55, a diesel electrician.
The Arkansas measure, known as Issue 6, is the only valid medical marijuana proposal on the ballot. The state Supreme Court invalidated a competing measure after ruling that its backers didn’t follow state law regarding paid canvassers.
Issue 6 would allow patients diagnosed with qualifying medical conditions to apply for a state-issued registration card that would let them buy marijuana from licensed dispensaries. The proposal lists 12 conditions that would qualify, including cancer, Crohn’s Disease and post-traumatic stress disorder, along with chronic or debilitating diseases that produces certain symptoms such as seizures or severe nausea. It would also allow the Department of Health to add other qualifying medical conditions.
A Republican lawmaker who opposes the measure has promised to introduce legislation next year that would legalize a low-THC variety of the drug if voters reject the ballot proposal.
Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter @ademillo