It was a good legislative session for some (gun rights supporters), a bad one for others (supporters of more highway spending), and for supporters of medical marijuana, it was as good as could be expected.
The amendment passed by Arkansas voters in November could be amended with a two-thirds vote by legislators, and at least that percentage likely voted against it, as did Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. There were ample opportunities these past three months for those lawmakers to mostly overturn the amendment overtly or subversively. But the attitude among many legislators and the governor was that regardless of what they believed about the amendment, the people voted for it, so their democratic duty was to make it work.
An early test was House Bill 1058 by Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, which changed a provision in the amendment requiring doctors to certify that the potential benefits of medical marijuana likely would outweigh the risks for a patient. Doctors, Rep. House argued, would be reluctant to make that claim because there are no accepted medical standards for marijuana, which remains an illegal drug in the eyes of the federal government, and they could face liability issues. The bill allowed doctors instead to simply state the patient suffered from one of the qualifying medical conditions spelled out in the amendment. In other words, they were identifying an illness, which they would do anyway.
If the spread of medical marijuana were to be limited, here was the perfect place to do it. The Legislature could simply leave the amendment exactly as the voters had approved it, and many doctors wouldn’t prescribe it. You could see the wheels turning as legislators considered that possibility. It passed the House with 70 votes, three to spare, on Jan.