Arkansans use grassroots effort to try and legalize marijuana

By Matt Johnson

NORTH LITTLE ROCK - A grassroots effort is underway to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansans after several failed attempts in the past decade.

The advocacy group Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACC) has gone door-to-door, held awareness events, and worked with lobbyists in hopes of making 2012 the year the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act goes before voters in November.

If passed, it would pave the way for 30 dispensaries to throughout Arkansas. Government-issued prescription cards would be required for purchasing and carrying marijuana.

Similar supporters of marijuana legalization failed in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2011 to get an initiative successfully passed.

This time around, ACC needs 62,507 signatures by July to make the ballot.

"We're about halfway there, maybe a little less than half way," said Melissa Fults, a volunteer with ACC, "but we have three more months to go and we're getting more and more volunteers every day."

There are about 300 volunteers statewide who have taken up the cause.

"After a couple of years I lost a third of my body weight," said Paul Coody, a paraplegic Navy veteran and volunteer for about a year with ACC. "My body was literally consuming itself."

Coody tried prescription pills but says the only thing that really works is medicinal marijuana. However, once the Department of Veteran Affairs found out he was using it, they cut him off.

"I'm a veteran right now who is facing homelessness now because I show positive on marijuana," he said.

Previous failed attempts to legalize marijuana have failed in Arkansas due to faulty signatures and improper bill writing. This year, even if the ACC gets the act onto the ballot they're likely to face opposition.

"We kind of see it as a back doorway to get it approved for recreational purposes not just medical purposes," said Sarah Bean with Arkansas Family Council.

Bean points out the potential dangerous effects that marijuana can have on a patient while also expressing concern over potential widespread abuse of prescription cards.

Meanwhile, supporters like Coody are lending their time to a cause that hopes to end the kind of two-fold suffering he is all too familiar with.

"We've got somebody like me who was living independently but will now be put on the streets because I simply sought to manage my care in the most effective, safe way possible," said Coody.