Arkansas lawmakers swiftly got to work on implementing new laws based on a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana passed in the election last November. Unfortunately, not all of the bills introduced are actually aimed at putting the amendment into practice the way voters expected. But some of these efforts have been put to an end, at least for now. Just last week the Arkansas Senate Committee on Health and Welfare had passed a bill to the full Senate for consideration that would have banned smoking medical marijuana.
Introduced by Senator Jason Rapert, Senate Bill 357 would have drastically altered the constitutional amendment passed by voters by banning smoking medical cannabis, as well as edibles. In the hearing by the full Senate the bill was voted against 15-10, with nine members not casting a vote. Since the bill would have needed a two-thirds vote in order to change the amendment, it will not be heard by the House in this session.
“Whether we like it or not the people have voted this in and they want us to comply. They only thing they gave us authority to do in the constitutional amendment was to implement their wishes,” Senator Jeremy Hutchison said. “I would argue this is in direct violation of the vast majority of people that voted for that. I think it’s time to respect the will of the people even if it doesn’t comport with our desires or our feelings.”
Surprisingly, even Senator Hutchison, who is opposed to medical marijuana, stuck up for the voters in this situation – saying that this was clearly not implementing the will of the people, explaining that even if not everyone agrees, they shouldn’t go making such drastic changes. In the end, he is right – lawmakers should be focusing on ensuring the safety of the people, within the ramifications set by the constitutional amendment that voters passed. It’s not their place to decide to make changes simply because they don’t like or agree with the law voters passed.
“I agree it’s bad but there’s a lot of bad things that people want. People want to get certain piercings that are bad but I voted to let those people get their piercings. Smoking tobacco is bad but nobody’s filed a bill to outlaw smoking of tobacco,” laughed Hutchinson. “While I agree that smoking marijuana is not ideal and there’s better way to deliver whatever medicinal values there are, the people spoke.”
While the ban on smoking medical cannabis has now been put to bed for the time being, Rapert will have the opportunity eventually to re-introduce the bill – and the measure to ban edibles was actually tabled for discussion at another time. This is certainly not the end of things and voters should remain aware that lawmakers could be changing the laws they passed – especially since nine members of the Senate didn’t cast a vote – but at least for now, one more aspect of the law that voters worked so hard to pass will be preserved.