On the last full day of the 2017 legislative session, the Senate narrowly defeated a bill that would have required that a majority interest in medical marijuana facilities be owned by people who have been Arkansas residents for the past seven years.
The legislature voted on numerous bills to implement the constitutional amendment approved by voters last November, which legalized the sale and cultivation of medical marijuana.
Voter approval of the amendment required the legislature to create, from scratch, a new agency with regulatory authority. A guiding principle was making sure that medical marijuana be treated strictly as a medicinal product, and to not allow it to become a gateway for recreational use.
HB 1371, to limit ownership of growing facilities and dispensaries, failed twice in the Senate, receiving 18 votes on one attempt and 17 votes on a second attempt. It needed at least 24 votes in favor. The bill would have amended the medical marijuana constitutional amendment approved by Arkansas voters last year, and thus required a two-thirds majority for passage. Two thirds of the 35-member Senate is 24.
Generally, the arguments against the bill were that it would unfairly restrict free trade.
Many other bills implementing the medical marijuana amendment were approved. For example, Act 641 will limit the licensing of dispensaries and growing facilities to “natural persons,” rather than corporations. The Senate passed it 33-to-1.
It also allows a growing or retail license to be transferred to another individual, subject to the approval of the newly-created Medical Marijuana Commission.
At least 17 bills have been enacted that implement the medical marijuana amendment, and more are on their way to the governor’s desk. Some were very common sense proposals that generated little if any controversy, such as a law to require growers to undergo a criminal background check.
One bill passed late in the session that is on its way to the governor is HB 2190, which requires dispensaries to hire a pharmacy consultant, who must be a licensed pharmacist. The pharmacist will develop educational materials for people who buy marijuana, including material on the risks and benefits of using medical marijuana.
The pharmacist will develop guidelines for recognizing substance abuse in customers, and guidelines for refusing to sell to people who show signs of being impaired or of abuse of medical marijuana.
HB 2190 requires dispensaries to make available vaporizers, for consumers who do not want to smoke medical marijuana. It also prohibits them from selling pipes, papers and paraphernalia associated with recreational smoking of marijuana.
The Senate passed HB 2190 by a 34-to-0 vote.
House Bill 1580 will impose a 4 percent tax on sales of medical marijuana, with the revenue to pay for inspections and regulation of the new industry. It has passed in both chambers of the legislature and is ready for the governor to sign.
Another law, Act 640, prohibits advertising or artwork that would appeal to children. Medical marijuana cannot be packaged in flavors that appeal to children, such as candy animals. It must be packaged in child-proof containers.