Ark. medical marijuana backers defend measure

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – A group trying to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas called on the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to reject a push to keep its proposal off the ballot, saying they believe it accurately describes how the law would change if voters approved the measure.

Arkansans for Compassionate Care, in a brief challenging a lawsuit brought by a coalition of conservative groups who want to keep the medical marijuana question off of November’s ballot, said the proposed 384-word question, or title, is sufficiently fair to be put forth to voters.

“It is a fair and impartial summary of the act and leaves out no provision of the act from the ballot title that would give the voter serious ground for reflection,” the group wrote.

The measure would allow patients with qualifying conditions to buy marijuana from nonprofit dispensaries with a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal acknowledges that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but the Coalition to Protect Arkansas Values, in its lawsuit, argues that the measure doesn’t state clearly enough that voters could be prosecuted.

The conservative coalition says the measure fails to accurately describe other consequences of passing the 8,700-word law, including a provision that would allow minors to use medical marijuana with parental consent.

“The intervenors are misleading the voters of Arkansas by failing to include fundamental provisions of the Act in the ballot title,” the group said in its brief.

The coalition has asked the court to remove the proposal from the ballot or order election officials to not count any votes for it. Wednesday was the deadline for both sides in the case to file briefs with the court.

In a separate brief, Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office defended the ballot question’s wording as legally sufficient and said the lawsuit was premature.

“Petitioners’ arguments that the substance of the Act may be constitutionally defective, prior to the actual election, are not ripe for review, irrespective of their legal merit,” attorneys for Martin’s office said in the brief.

Under the proposal, qualifying health conditions would include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease. The proposal also would allow qualifying patients or a designated caregiver to grow marijuana if the patient lives more than five miles from a dispensary.

Arkansas is the first Southern state to ask its voters to approve legalizing medical marijuana. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana in some fashion.

The coalition’s members include leaders of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, the Family Council Action Committee and the Families First Foundation.

It’s not clear when the court will rule on the lawsuit. The proposal’s supporters have asked the court to hear oral arguments in the case.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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