Rep. Dan M. Douglas, R-Bentonville, explains his bill dealing with alternative fuels tax in the House chamber at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Friday, March 20, 2015. (Danny Johnston, The Associated Press)

This lawmaker just made a serious chess move against Arkansas medical marijuana

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas lawmaker opposed to two medical marijuana ballot measures said Monday he’ll introduce legislation during next year’s session to make a more limited form of the drug available to some patients if voters reject the proposals, a move legalization proponents dismissed as a ploy to defeat their efforts.

Republican Rep. Dan Douglas vowed to introduce the bill seeking to legalize marijuana that is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which produces the euphoric state for users, but high in cannabidiol (CBD) for some patients with certain conditions. CBD is a marijuana compound that has been used to fight seizures.

“I’m committed to working with the surgeon general, the health care community, with the Health Department, with the Medical Board, whoever we need to, to come up and draft responsible legislation that gives us the needed oversight to keep this from becoming a substance abuse problem in Arkansas,” Douglas said at a news conference with other lawmakers opposed to the measures.

Douglas’ proposal would be more limited in who would have access to the drug and in what forms. According to a draft of the bill, it would be available for a handful of conditions such as seizures related to epilepsy or trauma-related head injuries and Crohn’s disease. But most of the conditions it covers — including multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease — would only qualify if they were end-stage or severe. Cancer patients would only qualify if their diagnosis was end-stage or their treatment produced nausea, vomiting or wasting illness. The proposal would bar patients from smoking marijuana as a treatment.

Arkansas voters narrowly rejected legalizing medical marijuana four years ago. Both ballot measures would allow patients to buy marijuana from licensed dispensaries, but differ in the drug’s regulations and restrictions. For example, one measure would allow patients to grow their own marijuana if they don’t live near a dispensary.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and an outspoken opponent of the ballot measures, said he was aware of Douglas’ plans but didn’t have an opinion on it yet.

Douglas announced his proposal days after one of the ballot measure campaigns launched a statewide TV ad that features a New Mexico mother who says CBD helped treat her infant daughter’s seizures. The head of the group behind that measure called the lawmaker’s proposal a diversion.

“It’s funny we’ve known about the benefits of medical marijuana for many, many years now and it’s only when this issue gets on the ballot and before the people in Arkansas that this gets proposed,” said David Couch, head of Arkansans United for Medical Marijuana.

The head of the group behind the competing measure said she doubted Douglas’ measure would go anywhere in the majority-Republican Legislature, and said its restrictions would do little to help a large number of patients.

“The low THC it refers to will only qualify to care for seizure disorders and will be ineffective for cancer or Crohn’s or many of the other illnesses that they listed,” said Melissa Fults, campaign director for Arkansans for Compassionate Care. “Furthermore, the chance of them allowing it to die in committee as soon as the election is over is a real and great possibility.”


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at @ademillo