There's a picture that instantly springs into most people's heads when they hear the phrase "medical marijuana advocate." For a lot of folks, it's one of a 20-something guy with dreads, a Bob Marley T-shirt, a poorly defined ailment and an assortment of interesting glassware on his dresser back home.
The reality of those advocating for medical marijuana in the state is a lot different from the stereotype, however. Many of those pushing for cannabis legalization are work-a-day folks, many of whom have heartbreaking personal stories of pain or the pain of a loved one. When a proposal to legalize medical marijuana in the state fell just short of passage 2012, failing with 48.5 percent of the vote, it was regular people driving the bus — collecting signatures, talking to their neighbors, educating their friends. Efforts to get medical marijuana back on the ballot are underway, and advocates say that grass roots work by small groups of volunteers who don't fit the stereotype will be crucial to the measure's success or failure.
One of those small groups is Van Buren County's Arkansans for Medical Cannabis. Formed in January 2010, with an average age hovering somewhere around 60, the group is pushing for full legalization of marijuana so that it can be both prescribed as a medicine and grown by Arkansas farmers. The spokesman for Arkansans for Medical Cannabis is Robert Reed, who lives near Clinton. Reed comes to Little Rock once a week to host the radio show "Cannabis Education," which airs on KABF 88.3 FM, every Saturday at 3 p.m. A 60-year-old veteran, Reed suffers from a degenerative disease that he said is slowly eating the cartilage in his body. He takes 11 pills every day for his various conditions, including painkillers. Though regular drug testing through his pain management clinic at the VA prohibits him from using marijuana as a medicine, he believes that if he had access to medical cannabis, he could take his daily pill count down to two.
Arkansans for Medical Cannabis, with a few dozen members, holds monthly meetings in homes and invites public speakers to the area. Those involved are decidedly not what you'd expect. "I'm 60, a disabled vet, and a grandfather of 22," Reed said. "We've got a disabled farmer who is 67. We've got another member of the group who is a retired highway worker who suffers from neuropathy. ... We've got a gentleman who is a farmer in Randolph County. We've got an artist who used to work for a brewing company. He's in his mid-50s. I think the youngest person in the group is probably 44 to 47, somewhere in there."
In 2012, the group hosted an informational event at the state Capitol, and has repeatedly submitted ballot initiatives to the Attorney General's office, only to see them rejected, the AG finding their wording either vague or ambiguous. (The AG has since approved two different ballot titles, one submitted by Arkansans for Compassionate Care and the other by Arkansans for Responsible Medicine.)
Reed believes the full legalization of cannabis in Colorado will have a positive effect on efforts to get medical marijuana legalized in Arkansas. Too, he notes, there's a libertarian appeal of passage that should resonate with Arkansas voters, no matter what their party. As Reed said, "When have you had enough of the government telling you what you can do, what you can eat, and what you can put in your body?"
With access to medical cannabis, he said, "I could definitely get off the painkillers. I live on a small farm, and I grow a heck of a vegetable garden. If I could grow it? Put it together: The taxpayer is no longer funding my medicine, I can't overdose with it. So what's the problem?"