But pro-family groups fear that the push for medical marijuana is the first step in a campaign to legalize the drug for recreational use.
Legalizing medical marijuana is "a horrible idea because this is simply a backdoor effort to legalize marijuana across the state of Arkansas," Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council Action Committee, told Baptist Press.
A ballot measure will ask voters whether they want to establish "a system for the cultivation, acquisition and distribution of marijuana for qualifying patients through nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries." Among the conditions that would qualify a person to use medical marijuana are cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and a host of others.
To qualify, Arkansas residents would have to obtain a doctor's note saying that marijuana would benefit them medically. Upon presenting such a note to the state's Department of Health, they would receive a card allowing them either to buy marijuana from authorized dispensaries or grow it themselves if they live more than five miles from a dispensary.
"Anyone who is breathing will be able to qualify to use so-called medical marijuana," Cox said. "If you're willing to tell a doctor, 'I have nausea,' 'I have muscle spasms,' 'I have chronic pain,' you will be able to qualify. The doctor doesn't even have to live in the state of Arkansas. All the person has to do is find a doctor in California or Colorado or any other place around the country and persuade that doctor to write them not a prescription, but just a note."
The 2.5 ounces of "useable marijuana" that each patient would be allowed to possess is enough for 100 marijuana cigarettes, according to Cox. He added that each authorized user may also possess a large amount of marijuana that is drying in preparation to be smoked.
Opponents of the measure asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to remove it from November's ballot, arguing that its title was not complete, did not reflect the scope and impact of the proposal and did not reflect clearly that the measure is against federal law. But the court ruled last month that the measure can appear on the ballot.
Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, opposes the measure.
Though one poll showed almost an even split among voters on the issue, Cox said many do not realize the negative impact of legalizing medical marijuana. He cited a recent study in Colorado -- where medical marijuana is legal -- which found that three out of four teenagers using marijuana illegally obtained it from someone with permission to possess it.
Medical marijuana brings general "unsavoriness" to a community, Cox said.
Authorized dispensaries "are really simply storefront drug dealers right there on main street in your town or my town," he said. "With that comes all the negativity that's associated with ... sleazy bars and liquor stores and other things like that. It just compounds that when you have your local neighborhood drug dealer."
There are legitimate medical uses of some compounds in cannabis plants, from which marijuana is derived, according to Cox. But he said those compounds are available through regulated drugs and questioned the need for anyone to smoke marijuana medicinally.
Cox and other pro-family leaders recommend that the federal government reclassify marijuana so that it can be researched, processed and administered through licensed pharmacies in appropriate forms. Currently it is regarded as a schedule one controlled substance -- a classification indicating that it has no accepted medical use in the United States and is highly addictive.
Marijuana advocates have framed the issue in terms of "compassionate care for the terminally ill, compassionate care for people that are in severe pain," Cox said. "They've done a good job of selling the people of Arkansas a bill of goods. What we are trying to do now is let people know this is not what you think it is."
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some fashion. Massachusetts will vote on medicinal marijuana in November, and the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled a medical marijuana initiative can't appear on the state's ballot.
David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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