The medical marijuana push in Arkansas 

Activists work to gather signatures.

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Retired financial analyst Gene Remley heads volunteer efforts. He's worked with medical marijuana initiatives in the past, but "this time has been different," he said. "People know people who have benefited from medical marijuana, or maybe they know someone experiencing side affects from hard pharmaceuticals." He's seen more support among older voters than in his prior experiences.

Many people see marijuana as a gentle alternative to opiates or psychotropic drugs, both of which come with unpleasant side affects. "It is only logical that marijuana be available to help people with chronic conditions. Opiates slow thinking, cause severe constipation, make you depressed ... you have to take higher and higher doses, and then there's a withdrawal period," said Dr. David Crittenden, an internist at the Veterans Healthcare System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville.

According to Denhem, social aversion is largely due to conditioning. "Marijuana is much safer than some other options. Pharmaceuticals kill thousands of people a year. No one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana. You can't even say that about aspirin," he said.

And in some cases, marijuana is just what works. In 1991, at only 35, Kathy Reynolds of Bella Vista was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. Her diagnosis came with a 98 percent fatality rate. After an extreme treatment that involved removing and cleaning her bone marrow, Reynolds was too ill to keep anything down. She remembers the dates precisely. "From Feb. 19 till May 5, no matter what I tried, I couldn't eat. Doctors tried five different medicines, from antidepressants to I'm not even sure what. They were like shots in the dark," she said

A friend asked Reynolds' oncologist about marijuana. "He said he couldn't legally prescribe it, but 'if you think it will help, try it,' " Reynolds remembers. "The next step was to put me in the hospital and feed me with a tube."

Reynolds was virulently against recreational drug use. She was a physical education teacher and had never smoked marijuana before. She never found out how her friend got the drug, but after smoking it, Reynolds experienced instant relief. She asked for a Dairy Queen blizzard, and she was able to keep it down.

"My appetite was like a pump that needed to be primed," she said. "If I didn't have marijuana, I probably wouldn't be here." She only needed to use marijuana for a few weeks, until her body was able to accept nourishment on its own. Even now, she hates that she had to break the law, and she only recently told her aging parents. "They would have disapproved completely," she said. "But I did what I had to do to survive."

Thus far, ACC has encountered no organized opposition, although if the initiative makes the ballot, Renham expects the Family Council Action Committee (FCAC) to officially campaign against the initiative. This would require the FCAC, a conservative education and research organization, to register as an oppositional group with the Arkansas Ethics Commission, a step FCAC President Jerry Cox said they're willing to take. "We think it's unnecessary for a person to be able to grow or purchase marijuana, when the medicinal properties can already be acquired through prescription drugs [the currently legal pharmaceutical THC pills]. If medical marijuana is allowed, it will be difficult for law enforcement to control its use, and we believe it will lead to higher use across the board. And, as far as we know, no credible medical organization has come out in support of it."


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