Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, speaks during the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. (J. Scott Applewhite, The Associated Press)

Could legalizing Arkansas medical marijuana drain resources? The gov thinks so

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Legalizing Arkansas medical marijuana would be a drain on the state’s resources, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday as legalization supporters asked the state’s highest court to dismiss an attempt to prevent a vote on their proposal this fall.

The governor also expressed opposition to a casino ballot measure while speaking to the Association of Arkansas Counties.

Hutchinson, the former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said he was concerned about the costs of regulation and enforcement if voters approve legalizing marijuana for some patients.

“You can imagine the enforcement issues, the regulatory issues that are involved in this,” the Republican said. “I do not see any tax boon to the state. I see more of a tax drain to the state.”

The secretary of state’s office last month approved one medical marijuana proposal for the November ballot and is reviewing petitions submitted for a competing measure. Arkansas voters narrowly rejected legalizing medical marijuana four years ago.

David Couch, the sponsor of the measure still being reviewed, said fees and taxes in his proposal would more than pay for the cost of regulating the drug, adding “it’s going to be revenue positive.”

Melissa Fults, the head of Arkansans for Compassionate Care, which is behind the measure approved for November, said regulation would also be covered by taxes and license fees. Plus, she said, it’ll create jobs at dispensaries and for related services such as security and grow-lighting.

“It’s going to create a huge number of jobs besides giving patients an alternative for their medicine,” Fults said. “I think he would appreciate jobs being created.”

Fults’ group asked the state Supreme Court to dismiss a request by opponents to prevent the state from counting or certifying any votes for the proposal. The complaint filed Wednesday claims the language of the proposal is misleading.

“They have to tell us, the court and other parties, what the facts are, but they don’t,” the group said in Thursday’s filing.

The as-yet-approved ballot measure that would allow casinos in Boone, Miller and Washington counties concerns Hutchinson because it wouldn’t give local officials a say and because he believes Arkansas doesn’t need any more gambling. He said he’s concerned by a provision giving the limited liability corporations designated in the proposal control over who they could transfer the gambling rights to.

“If you’re going to have an expansion of gambling in Arkansas, and particularly the area of casinos, let the state regulate and select appropriate vendors for that purpose,” Hutchinson said.

Robert Coon, a spokesman for the group campaigning for the casinos measure, said it provides oversight through a new commission and the casinos would be subject to laws implementing the amendment.

“What can’t be disputed is the tremendous impact that this amendment will have on the state of Arkansas in the form of new jobs, increased tourism, and tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue that can be utilized to pay for priorities such as education, roads and infrastructure, economic development, and future tax cuts,” Coon said in an email.

There are ballot measures in November that Hutchinson said Thursday he backs, which would change county officials’ terms from two years to four, allow the governor to retain his powers when out of state and remove the cap on bonds Arkansas can issue for large economic development projects. Hutchinson said he’s still studying another proposal that would set limits on damages awarded in lawsuits against health care providers.


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