Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other opponents have stepped up their criticism of the Arkansas medical marijuana legalization measures in recent weeks. Pictured: 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)

Governor, doctors criticize Arkansas medical marijuana push

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, accused medical marijuana supporters on Monday of misleading voters about the drug’s benefits as they promote two new ballot measures that would legalize pot for some patients.

Joined by some of the state’s top doctors, the Republican governor said the measures “do not lead to good medicine” and said they would circumvent the federal process for studying, approving and regulating new drugs. Arkansas voters narrowly rejected legalizing medical marijuana four years ago.

“We don’t vote on cancer cures in our society and we should not set a new pattern of determining what is good medicine at the ballot box,” Hutchinson said at a news conference, flanked by doctors from several hospitals and organizations around the state.

Half the states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana in some fashion, and advocates for Arkansas’ measures view them as a chance to demonstrate support in more conservative parts of the country. Both proposals would allow patients with certain conditions to buy the drug but vary in how it would be regulated and restricted.

Dr. Rick Smith, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said he believed both measures were misleading voters into believing people with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorder could safely use marijuana. He also warned that it would open the door for other forms of drug abuse, especially among adolescents and young adults.

“For those of you who have family members or people that you know and love with substance abuse and addiction, I cannot believe you would want to increase the likelihood of more adolescents and young adults developing these devastating conditions,” Smith said.

The head of the campaign to approve one of the marijuana measures said she was disappointed with the comments and said the change is needed at the state level since federal officials won’t remove marijuana from the list of most dangerous drugs.

“In half of the states in the nation, patients can go to their doctors and get relief with this medication,” Melissa Fults, campaign director for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, told reporters. “Yet Arkansas thinks it’s too dangerous.”

Hutchinson and other opponents have stepped up their criticism of the legalization measures in recent weeks. A coalition of groups that includes the state Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Farm Bureau are campaigning against the measures and have filed lawsuits to disqualify them from the ballot.

The groups opposing the measure Monday include the Arkansas Hospital Association, and its president said the group was worried that the number of conditions it covered would lead to recreational use of the drug. The association didn’t take a position on the measure four years ago.

“We’re taking it more seriously this time,” Bo Ryall, the group’s president and chief executive officer, said. “Last time they came within an eyelash of passing, so we need to get involved this time.”


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at @ademillo