by Nick Brothers
Photos by Nick Brothers
After a harsh winter and lack of sponsorship and time, volunteers in support of getting a revised initiative of legalized medical marijuana in Arkansas on the November ballot failed to get enough signatures by the July 10 deadline to qualify for the November ballot.
Organizers obtained approximately 80 percent of the 62,507 signatures required.
“By far the hardest part about all this was calling some of the parents of children with seizure disorders and some of our cancer patients and tell them that cannabis just wouldn’t be an option,” said Gary Fults, state volunteer director and president of Arkansans for Compassionate Care.
One of those parents was Melissa Davis, who has two children who suffer from daily seizures to the point they haven’t been able to develop properly.
C.J., 6, and Ciera, 7, suffer from a rare congenital disorder of glycosylation (PIGT-CDG), which causes grand mal seizures — the kind that cause victims to lose consciousness while experiencing violent muscle contractions — at least once if not several times a day. It started when they were 5 months old, and the seizures haven’t gone away. Davis keeps video monitors on their beds so she can keep an eye on them at all times. She has added up the number of seizures her children have had, and she said they’ve had more than 11 million.
Davis has tried nearly every medicine she can for her children. She’s tried central nervous system depressants such as Phenobarbital, Keppra, Klonopin, Lamictal — all which usually don’t work.
Life for C.J. and Ciera consists of being fed from tubes four times a day, and being medicated three times a day. Constant seizures in their brains don’t allow time for their brains to learn or absorb information. They can’t crawl or walk. Eventually the disease will kill them, whether it’s a seizure or the brain shrinkage getting to a point where their brain stems won’t function properly.
Prior to the news of the initiative failing, Davis hoped for an opportunity to provide her children with Charlotte’s Web, a special strain of hemp gaining popularity as a medicinal treatment for epilepsy. The strain is very low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), so it doesn’t induce a psychoactive high, but it is very high in cannabidiol (CBD) which is considered to have many medical uses. It’s applied via oil, so no smoking is necessary. However, many doctors are wary of the absence of peer reviewed research on Charlotte’s Web, and oftentimes won’t consider it as an option.
Beyond Charlotte’s Web, medicinal uses of marijuana include providing relief and treatment for muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, nausea from cancer chemotherapy, poor appetite and weight loss caused by chronic illness such as HIV or nerve pain, seizure disorders and Crohn’s disease, according to WebMD.
For the foreseeable future, medicinal marijuana is illegal to use in Arkansas.
Moving to Colorado isn’t an option for Davis financially. C.J. and Ciera’s doctors agree that the current medication isn’t working, and Charlotte’s Web is a last resort for Davis to try and bring comfort to her children.
“The moment the word came in (that it didn’t make the ballot,) I completely broke down,” Davis said. “Now, I’m terrified. Can we wait two more years? My fear is my children won’t last two years. It makes me sick to my stomach that no one had to vote and approve for me to give my children Phenobarbital. It’s a barbiturate. But to give them something that God created — a natural plant, no chemicals with hardly any THC in it — I have to go through this whole red tape and all this when it should be readily available.”
In the November 2012 election, Issue 5, which would have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana in Arkansas, was defeated 51.44 percent to 48.56 percent. Because of the narrow margins, supporters of legalizing medical marijuana decided to try again in 2014.
In 2012 there was funding for canvassers to be paid to go door-to-door in neighborhoods to acquire signatures to get the initiative on the ballot. This time around there were only volunteers; they were not sponsored and many of them could only commit to weekends.
“We’d been collecting signatures for nine months, and the weather killed us,” said Melissa Fults, campaign director and co-author of the 2014 initiative of Arkansans for Compassionate Care. “We’ve had the worst winter in Arkansas in years, and it just about rained every weekend. For our volunteers who had regular jobs during the week who could only commit to weekends, it cut down our ability to go out and get signatures.”
Those who stand against medical marijuana argue the lack of medical research on marijuana as a safe, non-habit-forming drug. State Sen. Bart Hester, a Republican, said he thought medical marijuana would be a step in the wrong direction for Arkansas.
“I’ve done some research and talked with several local doctors, and from what I’ve found, medical marijuana doesn’t bring anything to the table that prescription drugs already do,” he said. “If this does pass one day, then that’s the will of the people and I will represent what’s important to the people of Arkansas.”
Marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug by the FDA, which prohibits research on it. The FDA announced in June they would consider rescheduling the drug as less dangerous. Currently, marijuana is listed as more dangerous than methamphetamine, Oxycontin and cocaine, all — minus marijuana — of which are capable of overdose, according to the Center for Disease Control.
“It’s like a dog chasing its tail,” Gary said. “The DEA won’t change its enforcement policy until more research is done on it, but the FDA won’t allow research on it.”
The previous initiative in 2012 proposed certain qualifying individuals be allowed to grow and cultivate marijuana within five miles of a dispensary.
“I think the version voters would be more comfortable with is the initiative that didn’t allow home growing of medical marijuana,” said Jon Woods, a Republican state senator. “The national trend seems for people to want to just pass (medical marijuana) and move on to the bigger issues. If parents think the marijuana oil is helping their kids with seizures and lowering the amount they get, yeah, I think they should have access to it.”
About 68,000 Arkansans could qualify for medicinal marijuana in 2012 and possibly up to 100,000 could qualify for treatment now, Gary said.
“The hard part is getting the education out there,” Davis said. “There’s also the people who don’t want to be educated, they just want to close their minds and have nothing to do with it. That’s the part that hurts, too. No one wants to be a part of it until unfortunately it happens to someone in their family. I didn’t do any advocating until I heard about Charlotte’s Web. When you’re watching your child seize, and there’s nothing you can do about it, y’know, what would you do?”
According to the signatures the advocate group collected, about 70 percent of those who signed were over 40 years old. A recent poll in April conducted by Talk Business-Hendrix College found that 45 percent of those polled were for legalizing medical marijuana and 45.5 percent said they were against it with 9.5 percent undecided. The group is hopeful about how things are going for 2016, Melissa said.
“People are realizing there really is something to this. It isn’t just a bunch of hippies trying to get high doing this,” Gary said. “There are proven medical benefits of marijuana, and we’ve only been about medical use.”
Despite not making it on to the ballot this year, Arkansans for Compassionate Care will be rallying again and will begin to collect signatures this September. They hope to be able to get more volunteers involved and ask for donations to the cause so they can afford to hit their goal.
“We’re gonna get it done,” Gary said. “2016 will be a cake walk. It’s like throwing pebbles at a wall. If you throw enough, it will do something tremendous.”
Arkansas Medical Marijuana Election results, November 2012
49 percent in favor
51 percent against
Difference of 30,000 votes
Source: Staff Report
U.S. States with Legal Medical Cannabis
23 states and our nation’s capital:
- Washington D.C.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
If Arkansas were to pass the initiative for medical marijuana, it would be the first state in the South to do so.