Medical marijuana measure trails late


LITTLE ROCK — A ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for medical use in Arkansas narrowly trailed as general election ballots were still being tallied late Tuesday.

Unofficial results reported by the secretary of state’s office was 51 percent against to 49 percent in favoring of the measure for the measure at 11 p.m.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, Issue 5 on the ballot, was proposed by the group Arkansans for Compassionate Care, which collected more than the 62,507 signatures needed to place the proposed initiated act on the ballot but faced strong opposition from Christian conservatives, law enforcement, pharmacists and the state Medical Society. Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel also came out against the measure.

“We worked very hard. It’s been a very intense campaign,” Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council, the group that led opposition to the measure, said Tuesday night. “We’re cautiously optimistic. We’re going to keep watching the returns like everybody else and just hoping that it goes our way.”

The proposal would authorize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, with a doctor’s recommendation, for people with certain health conditions.

It also would allow marijuana to be grown and dispensed to authorized patients at up to 30 nonprofit dispensaries across the state under state regulation, though cities and counties could have banned them.

The measure also would allow limited cultivation of marijuana by a qualifying patient who lives more than five miles from a dispensary, or a person who has been designated as a caregiver for that person by the state Health Department.

The Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association, the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Medical Society, the Arkansas Pharmacists Association and state Drug Director Fran Flener all opposed the measure. A coalition of Arkansas doctors supported the proposal, but Arkansas for Compassionate Care was not able to win the support of any establishment group.

The Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values, a coalition of Christian conservative groups, waged a campaign against the proposal that included a TV ad featuring a black actor playing an armed drug dealer. Talk show host Montel Williams called the ad racist during an Oct. 18 visit to Little Rock to campaign for the measure; the makers of the ad said it was not intended to play on racist stereotypes and noted that it also featured white actors.