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     Come election day on November 6th, Arkansans will be presented with many choices and many decisions to make while at the ballot box.  One of those will be whether to vote for or against an initiated act, the popular name of which is a seemingly harmless act called “THE ARKANSAS MEDICAL MARIJUANA ACT”.

     The Baxter County Sheriff’s Office does not support that passage of the proposed act known by the popular title of “THE ARKANSAS MEDICAL MARIJUANA ACT”.  This five word title is deceptive, and it does not even come close to describing what the underlying negative effect on public health and safety will be should this act be passed.  This act is nothing more than a blatant attempt aimed at eventually achieving outright legalization of marijuana in the State of Arkansas. Proponents of the measure hope that the public will not read or familiarize themselves with the true content of the language in this proposed act. For the reasons stated below, the Sheriff’s Office opposes this act and hopes the voting public will defeat it at the ballot box on November 6th.  Please take the time to read further as to why the Sheriff’s Office opposes this act.

     While many people might not question the legitimacy of “Medical Marijuana” being readily available through controlled means to provide a form of treatment or comfort to persons with certain health issues, it is necessary to read the proposed act in its entirety to see exactly what is being proposed.  After reading this act, one will find that it is far broader in scope than simply providing for the controlled dispensation of “Medical Marijuana”.  It is, in fact, a clandestine and surreptitious attempt to legalize the possession, manufacture, and sale of marijuana in the State of Arkansas. 

     Some of the provisions of this act that will lead a person into recognizing the true intent of the proposed act are as follows:

  1.     The term “Medical Use” in the proposed act means not only “use” within the normal meaning of the word.  It also means the acquisition, possession, cultivation, preparation, manufacture, use, delivery, transfer or transportation of marijuana or paraphernalia………..”.
  2.    The term “Nonprofit Dispensary” in the proposed act means a not-for-profit entity that has registered with the Arkansas Department of Health.  It does not have to be a pharmacy or clinic that one normally associates the dispensation of medicines with.
  3.    The term “Nonprofit Dispensary Agent” in the proposed act means any employee, volunteer, or agent of a Nonprofit Dispensary who is simply 21 years of age or older, works for the Nonprofit Dispensary, and has registered with the Arkansas Department of Health.  The agent need not be a pharmacist, pharmacy technician, physician, registered nurse, or other such professional normally associated with the dispensation of medicines.
  4.    The term “Qualifying Patient” in the proposed act simply means a person who has been diagnosed by any registered physician as having a “Qualifying Medical Condition”, which covers eleven (11) specific diseases or conditions.  Not only that, a Qualifying Medical Condition also covers such ambiguous conditions as nausea, pain, and muscle spasms.
  5.    The term “Written Certification” in the proposed act simply means any document signed by any registered physician stating that the person is a “Qualifying Patient”. 
  6.    A “Qualifying Patient” may possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and still not be in violation of the law. 
  7.    A “Qualifying Patient” who lives more than five (5) miles from one of these Nonprofit Dispensaries, may possess and cultivate up to six (6) flowering marijuana plants.
  8.     These “Nonprofit Dispensaries” may accept marijuana seeds, seedlings, plants, or useable marijuana from other dispensaries.  They, in effect, can operate a nursery for the purpose cultivating marijuana.
  9.    No person identified as a “Qualifying Patient” can be denied custody or visitation of a minor, and there shall be no presumption of neglect or child endangerment by any such “Qualifying Patient”.

      10.   Third party persons cannot be penalized “…..for being in the presence of medical use of marijuana.”  This includes not only an immediate presence but also simply being in the “vicinity” of the medical use of marijuana.  This provision of the act would make it virtually impossible for law enforcement to enforce marijuana possession laws with respect to persons who have not been deemed “Qualifying Patients” but who are using or possessing marijuana in the company of “Qualifying Patients” or in the vicinity of medical marijuana use.

     It is very plain to see that this proposed act goes far beyond the seemingly benign purpose of providing controlled access to marijuana for persons who might have a health condition for which marijuana could conceivable be of some benefit.

     In reality, the proposed act completely alters relationships between the government (including law enforcement), the health care profession, and members of the public with respect to the availability, possession, and use of a substance (marijuana) that has long been a prohibited controlled substance under both Arkansas and Federal law for very good reasons.

     People often have debates as to whether or not marijuana is a harmful substance.  We believe that evidence from scientific studies clearly indicates marijuana to be harmful.  Most everyone would agree that the ingestion of marijuana causes a degree of intoxication, which will vary from person to person.  Indeed, the whole purpose of using marijuana is to get “high”.  Users themselves describe the sensation as being “stoned” or “wasted”.  Placing oneself in such a condition certainly has the vast potential for negative consequences.  Studies have shown in particular that:

  1.      Marijuana use can cause impaired respiratory conditions, including reduced lung capacity, lung cysts, and chronic bronchitis.
  2.     Marijuana smoke contains 50% to 75% more cancer-causing agents than smoked tobacco.  Its use is linked to several specific types of cancer.
  3.     Marijuana contains 421 known chemicals, including cannabinoids, which are fat soluble and dissolve in cell membranes, making it difficult for protein to enter the cells.  Every function in the living cells depends on protein.  Marijuana, even more so than heroin, causes significant DNA damage according to Doctor Akira Miroshima, formerly of Columbia University.
  4.     Marijuana increases heart rates by 20% to 100% shortly after smoking and this affect can last up to three hours.
  5.     Harvard University researchers report that the risk of heart attack is five times higher than usual an hour after smoking marijuana.
  6.    Marijuana smoke contains seven times more tar and carbon monoxide than cigarette smoke.
  7.     Marijuana smoke contains ammonia levels twenty times higher than tobacco smoke.  It also contains hydrogen cyanide and nitric oxide levels three to ffive times higher than in tobacco smoke.  These substances are toxic and can be poisonous to the human body.
  8.     Prenatal marijuana exposure has a significant effect on school-age intellectual development.

     Teenagers and young adults are certainly not immune to the negative consequences of marijuana use either.  Professionals dealing with drug abuse can unequivocally state that the signs of a teenager using marijuana include apathy, disrespect, disinterest in activities, lower grades, frequent mood changes, depression, and isolation from family.  Adolescent exposure to marijuana causes a permanent, cognitive deficit and changes in the brain structure/functioning. 

     Most law enforcement officers and emergency service workers have first-hand experience in observing and recognizing these signs and characteristics in persons who have been consuming marijuana.  They aren’t difficult to detect.

     Some people rationalize that marijuana use is a so-called “victimless crime”, so why worry about it?  Quite the contrary is true.  There are actually more victims of drug abuse than most other types of crime.  To begin with, the user is a victim.  Most of us know or recognize at least one person who has suffered the terrible consequences of drug abuse.  One need only look at the devastation to some of those in the entertainment industry, people who can’t hold a job and are homeless, youth who become school dropouts, and those seeking help in drug treatment centers.  

     Family and friends of drug abusers are also victims.  Consider drug-endangered children, drug-dependent newborns, poor parenting, child and spousal abuse, family break-ups, heartbreak, economic cost to the family, etc.  If you talk to a family member who has a loved one involved in drug abuse, then you are talking to a victim.

     Moving on from the abuser and family members and friends, there is a third category of victims.  These are those innocent people who are victimized by criminal acts committed by someone under the influence of drugs.  Hundreds of innocent people are killed every year because of drug-impaired driving.  People are assaulted, mugged, murdered, raped, or robbed because somebody is under the influence of drugs.  Many people arrested for crimes are under the influence of drugs at the time the crime was committed.  The nexus between drug use and violence is indisputable. 

     Let’s not forget the taxpayers.  They are also victims.  Research has repeatedly shown that substance abuse is directly related to poverty, violent crime, academic underachievement, soaring healthcare costs, child abuse, homelessness, and teen pregnancy.  The cost for the current level of drug use has been estimated at $193 billion taxpayer dollars annually.

     We sometimes hear mention of the so-called “War on Drugs”, which some would say has been ineffective.  While we will never be able to completely eliminate illicit drug use, the government’s efforts over the years have shown measurable success. For example:

  1.     Is reducing drug use by 50% over the last 40 years a failure? 
  2.     Is the fact that a high school senior in 2008 is half as likely to be a current marijuana user than those senior in 1978 a failure?
  3.     Is the reduction of youth drug use by 24% in the last decade a failure?
  4.     Is the fact that 91% of our people 12 years or older don’t use drugs a failure?

     When compared to this nation’s legal drugs, the only conclusion possible is that our drug policy has had some notable successes.  The key is to continue to work for greater reductions, not support drug legalization and thus greater use.  We all should be advocating for sobriety, not intoxication.

     With the passage of Act 570 of 2011 by the Arkansas General Assembly, the criminal penalties for possessing, manufacturing, and selling marijuana were reduced.  Contrary to what some would lead us to believe, our prisons and jails are not overflowing with persons arrested or convicted of marijuana offenses.  There is already extensive use of fines, probation, and alternative sentencing with respect to marijuana offenses.  Few persons convicted of marijuana offenses are committed to serve sentences of imprisonment.  Those who do generally have multiple prior offenses.  It is more likely that a person be sentenced to jail for a misdemeanor Theft or DWI charge, for example, than for a marijuana offense.

          In conclusion, the Sheriff’s Office encourages the public to join us in opposing this act and hopes the voting public will defeat it at the ballot box on November 6th.

/s/ John F. Montgomery,
Baxter County Sheriff