Arkansas: Group gains support to make medical marijuana legal

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By Will DuPree, Video Journalist

There is a truth that must be heard! JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – A petition is circulating statewide to allow the sick and dying access to medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

The Arkansans for Compassionate Care, or ACC, are encouraging others to support the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, which would decriminalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

"It's common sense," said Ryan Denhem, campaign director. "It's time to have a policy like this in Arkansas."

Denham spoke to Region 8 News by phone Wednesday from Fayetteville, where the ACC is located. He says a growing number of volunteers has helped the group collect more than 20,000 signatures since May 2011, but that's a third of what's needed to get the issue on the ballot in November.

"If that passes, it will allow patients a safe environment, a tightly regulated, controlled environment, to purchase medical marijuana with a doctor's supervision," Denhem said.

Sixteen other states have similar medical marijuana laws. Denhem expects the group to surpass the 62,000 signatures needed by the July 6 deadline. The ACC, meanwhile, is recruiting even more volunteers to hit the streets, gather signatures and educate people about the law and its intended use.

Denhem has personally made six trips to Jonesboro since the campaign started. He held a volunteer training event last summer and says over 40 people showed up to learn about the petition process. He plans to come back to the area in three weeks for another training session.

"We're continuing to work with those volunteers and to train them and mobilize them," Denhem said, "so I'm optimistic that we can still make the ballot."

Denham says most opposition he's encountered has come from people worried about the abuse that may come from the law's passage. He insists, however, that the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act contains safeguards to prevent such abuse and fraud.

According to a draft of the law on the ACC Web site, a doctor would have to prove a patient suffered from one of about 15 serious medical conditions to qualify for a medical marijuana registry card.

"We're talking about cancer patients, Multiple Sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma, Hepatitis C, Tourette's, Fibromyalgia," Denhem said. "We're talking about serious medical conditions."

The law would also allow the patient to possess as much as 2.5 ounces of the drug, which he or she could receive from a non-profit dispensary. Patients or their caregivers could, however, grow a limited amount of marijuana if they live more than five miles from the nearest dispensary, according to the law.

Denhem was also quick to point out the value of medical marijuana to those suffering from severe or terminal diseases. He says the drug is one of the safest, most therapeutic substances and could relieve nausea and appetite loss, among other maladies. The group's Web site features testimonies from a number of Arkansas residents who used medical marijuana illegally to combat their symptoms.

"In Arkansas patients are left with two horrible choices," he said. "They can continue to suffer and not get the relief they need by not getting medical marijuana, or they can break the law and get medical marijuana on the black market."

The ACC intends to press forward and collect as many signatures as possible before the state filing deadline.

To view the complete version of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act or to learn more about the ACC,