opinion by Scott Shackelford
Shackelford is a former editorial page editor for a Northwest Arkansas newspaper. He lives in Fayetteville.
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Words and phrases such as “medical marijuana,” “legal” and “the state of Arkansas” lack a history of spending much time together. After all, most people in these parts have for years and years strongly believed in fighting the spread of illegal narcotics at every turn. The continuation of a decent, thoughtful society seemed to depend on it.
But times are changing.
On Aug. 22 the Secretary of State’s office announced that Arkansans for Compassionate Care had turned in enough valid signatures to place a medical marijuana legalization effort on the November ballot.
Far more impressive, and telling, is the lack of dust this admittedly impressive accomplishment failed to kick up. Despite a worthy bit of news coverage, public reaction has been largely mute. Because the election is still a good ways off? Maybe. But I’m guessing the much more likely reason has to do with a growing recognition that medical marijuana just isn’t the hot-bottom topic it once was.
Mind you, should the proposal pass, Arkansas voters won’t be able to claim any trail-blazing status — 17 other states, including the District of Columbia, have already given their blessing, although ours is reportedly the first Southern state to grant ballot space to a medical marijuana effort.
How might it work? A physician would sign off on an individual’s pain and suffering, and once eligible the state could issue said patient a Registry Identification Card. Qualifying individuals could be granted up to 2.5 ounces of usable pot without fearing prosecution.
Patients living more than five miles from a so-called “dispensary” would be allowed to grow their own supply – a relatively minor detail sure to raise a few opposition eyebrows.
It occurs to me that folks inclined to side and vote against measures like this always say the same things: That all sorts of drugs exist to assist people suffering terrible conditions (cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.) and that going to the great lengths of legalizing medical marijuana isn’t really necessary. It is a point of view just one step removed from arguing that medical marijuana is really a sleight of hand – and that similar efforts being strongly pushed in so many different places are really all about conditioning the American public to one day support the complete legalization of marijuana.
Such unoriginal thinking is part of the reason legalized medical marijuana usage is expanding across the country. It also probably has something to do with people coming to their senses.
Surely most individuals who adamantly believe propositions like this one are a terrible idea lack an appreciation for the medical professionals caring for a patient in serious pain to also be left wondering what more could be done. After all, the ballot proposal is only talking about 2.5 ounces; such a small amount won’t likely turn an ailing senior citizen into a drug kingpin.
Odds are, too, that most people strenuously against coming to the assistance of their fellow countrymen are missing an appreciation of what it feels like to have an immediate family member in terrible pain. Closely reconsidering strongly held beliefs about what is so obviously right and wrong in life is always so much easier when it is someone else’s child, parent or close friend who is actively seeking relief. But what if it wasn’t? What if it was you?
The right to seek medical marijuana makes tremendous sense in terms of sheer human decency. The anti-crowd (and the fall vote will produce a healthy contingent) is playing improved odds when it harrumphs about this being a fancy way of decriminalizing marijuana use in general, and slowly but surely convincing Americans citizens everywhere that pot isn’t so harmful after all.
As a nation, we’re still a long way from crossing that bridge. The idea that a medical marijuana win in Arkansas would automatically lead to statewide legalization is ludicrous.
Still, it is fair to assume that many of the groups/private citizens who support the legal medical use of marijuana are at least open to the notion that possession under normal circumstances should not be a federal crime. It is fair to imply that many medical marijuana proponents, should this growing practice eventually become legal in all 50 states, won’t stop, but will continue on with their dreams of full acceptance.
Guessing the future is tricky. Maybe someday marijuana use in certain small quantities will be legal, and taxed, and the lack of offenders to place behind bars will give bursting prison cells a break, and cease bleeding dry the public coffers that keep them locked up for years at a time. Perhaps, though, it won’t, and a majority of citizens will continue supporting elected officials who are sure to keep the legalization of pot an unrequited dream of a disaffected minority.
Such is a discussion for the future.
At present, Arkansans have an opportunity to bring a degree of comfort and relief, if only in degrees, to neighbors who would probably enjoy the right to decide whether a few ounces of pot might be something they desire.
In any case, the choice would fall to patients and doctors – and not, more importantly, anyone on either side of the aisle who woke up this morning with an ax to grind.