opinion by Scott Shackelford
Scott Shackelford is a former editorial page editor for a Northwest Arkansas newspaper. He lives in Fayetteville.
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Arkansas’ ongoing debate over the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use – such as it is – leaves me feeling discomforted.
Recent polling suggests the ongoing effort to make the drug available to sick patients via state licensure is going to lose. Badly, perhaps. Pharmacists, police, religious leaders, state employees who would have been charged with implementing the controversial proposal, and politicians who have no interest being seen as overly progressive will all breath a collective sigh of relief.
I don’t know anybody personally who is critically ill and desperate for the sort of relief medical experts say medical marijuana often provides. A lot of people out there do, though, which is why about one-third of the country has already signed off on some version of the proposal being discussed and voted on by Arkansans – and this in spite of the reality that Uncle Sam views the possession of marijuana as a federal crime.
That’s something this state’s medical marijuana opponents have been harping on from the start. But something they seem to forget to mention is that the Obama Administration has made a point of going out of its way to criminalize the practice less and less.
That’s probably because prosecuting sick and dying U.S. citizens guilty of attempting to alleviate their pain and suffering is even more distasteful than it sounds. It’s something the U.S. Attorney General’s office, as well as federal prosecutors in general, ought to be making as little time for as possible.
State officials point to the financial cost of such a service. Officials argue state government simply doesn’t have the extra funding the law may require, especially in these tough economic times.
Proponents argue right back that cost should not be a very critical concern – not when the state is ready and willing to ask voters to approve Issue 1 on this year’s ballot, which would raise hundreds of millions of dollars for expanded highways across the Natural State. Are state officials seriously arguing that a few new roads are much more important than caring for our sick and dying neighbors?
Jerry Cox, founder and president of the Family Council, argues that voting in favor of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act is really just a way of gaining acceptance for a drug that supporters someday wish to fully legalize. Cox might be a nice guy, but in reality our state’s populace would be much better served if he chose to go fishing during election season.
Remember, Cox is the same knucklehead who spearheaded a 2004 effort to add a layer of discrimination to state law by preventing gays and lesbians from being able to marry in Arkansas. That grand effort accomplished nothing – aside from telling the world that voters trust Cox and his raging moralistic views on certain social issues, and even if that willingness to agree with him makes our otherwise wonderful state supportive of inequality as a result.
Here’s the thing about Issue 5: The proposal, as written, is by no means perfect law. (How many acts approved by voters are?)
But before visiting their local polling place, I wish voters would take time to read the literature supporting both sides of this issue. I wish the whole electorate could have the opportunity to sit and listen first-hand from a cancer patient who has benefited from medical marijuana. They might learn that you don’t become a drug addict as a result; instead, you benefit, perhaps greatly, with a little less pain to hold you down.
Our state has given the keys to state government to some truly strange lawmakers in the distant and recent past, and signed off on state amendments future generations have been less than proud of. And yet, somehow, Arkansas has lived to see another day. Wouldn’t be wonderful if, just this one time, voters took a leap of faith and took the word of all those doctors and patients who say their lives would be enhanced by passage of Issue 5, and not people like Jerry Cox, who believe the best medicine is to be scared of life, and to be scared of subjects like marijuana?
Cox wants to believe most people think like him, which means believing that being scared of change is ultimately the best policy life affords, because always saying no means never taking any chances. He might believe that, but do you? Do you believe it isn’t worth taking a chance on Issue 5, even if your support means bringing comfort to a sick person?
It’s true that Issue 5’s implementation might not be cheap, or easy at every turn, and might even require one or two revisions along the way. But aren’t the headaches worth the relief being proposed? One-third of our fellow states have already answered that question affirmatively.
Or put it this way: Is the best morality saying no to marijuana (which is no more dangerous than a litany of pharmaceutical drugs) or rushing to the aid of friends and family – or complete strangers we’ll never meet but who sure would appreciate the addition of this medical option just the same?