The Arkansas medical marijuana amendment gives the state four months to establish the rules. A medical marijuana sign is on display at The Herban Underground, a Colorado dispensary. (Vince Chandler, Denver Post file)

Just-appointed Arkansas medical marijuana panel on short clock

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas political leaders on Wednesday named five people to the state Medical Marijuana Commission, setting up a panel that will adopt policies and regulations that each of the elected officials opposed when ballot issues were considered at the polls last month.

“We were rather vocal in our opposition to the amendment, but the people spoke and it is our responsibility to take the steps necessary to implement in a fair and responsible way the amendment that was passed by the people of Arkansas,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.

The governor and the leaders of the Arkansas House and Senate appointed a panel that includes a breast cancer surgeon, a pain specialist, a pharmacist, a former Senate chief of staff and a lawyer. Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said there had been a discussion of perhaps placing someone from law enforcement on the commission but it was determined the other specialties were more important.

While Arkansas becomes the first Bible Belt state to allow medical marijuana, there are still federal laws against marijuana use.

Under the state constitutional amendment adopted last month, the commission will establish rules governing marijuana distribution to people suffering from certain medical conditions. It can license between four and eight growing centers and authorize between 20 and 40 dispensaries. No county can have more than four distribution sites.

The governor said he would prefer that the panel distribute licenses on a lottery basis, such as what is done for liquor permits among applicants who meet the state’s requirements.

The amendment gives the state four months to establish the rules.

“We only have one time to get it right,” Hutchinson said.

Senate President Jonathan Dismang, a Republican, said his appointees voted against the medical marijuana amendment, known as Issue 6 on the November ballot. Hutchinson and GOP House Speaker Jeremy Gillam did not say how their appointees voted.

Hutchinson appointed Little Rock breast cancer surgeon Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillma. Gillam appointed Benton pharmacist Stephen Carroll and lawyer Travis Story of Fayetteville. Dismang named former Senate chief of staff James Miller of Bryant and pain specialist Dr. J. Carlos Roman of Little Rock.