LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas' top anti-drug official and the state Chamber of Commerce joined pharmacists and law enforcement agencies Friday to announce their opposition to a measure on the November ballot that would legalize medical marijuana.
State Drug Director Fran Flener said she and the groups planned to speak out against the measure that, if passed, would make Arkansas the first southern state to legalize medical marijuana. The proposal would allow patients with qualifying conditions to buy marijuana from nonprofit dispensaries with a doctor's recommendation.
"While our group's vision of compassion does not include smoked marijuana as a medicine, it does include elements that we consider equally important measures of compassion," Flener said.
She said those include "compassion for our citizens who travel our roads and our highways," ''the prevention of the establishment of crime-ridden dispensaries" and "the prevention of marijuana abuse particularly by children and teens."
Besides the Chamber of Commerce, other organizations joining Flener in opposing the measure include the Arkansas Sheriffs Association, the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police and the Arkansas Pharmacists Association. They plan to air advertisements against the measure.
Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group that proposed the ballot initiative, has raised more than $289,000 with most of the money coming from the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project.
Scott Pace, associate executive vice president of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association, said the organization worried the measure would allow marijuana to be distributed without the same regulations other drugs face.
"By using untrained, nonmedical personnel, patients' safety will be jeopardized by eliminating critical tasks performed by pharmacists," Pace said.
The Chamber of Commerce is opposing the measure because it would hurt efforts by employers to maintain a drug-free workplace, president Randy Zook said.
"It undermines your ability to make sure your employees aren't impaired, and in a lot of work environments that can a very dangerous and even life-threatening problem," he said.
Supporters of the legalization proposal say it includes provisions to prevent the type of abuse cited by those who are against the measure.
"I think we share some of the same concerns," said Ryan Denham, campaign director for Arkansans for Compassionate Care. "We're concerned about children using marijuana, we're concerned about marijuana becoming out of control and this being an unregulated law, but the fact is the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act is one of the most tightly regulated medical marijuana laws ever drafted."
Under the proposal, qualifying health conditions would include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS and Alzheimer's disease. The proposal also would allow qualifying patients or a designated caregiver to grow marijuana if the patient lives more than five miles from a dispensary.
The organizations against the measure announced their partnership the day after supporters, including TV host and medical marijuana advocate Montel Williams, criticized an ad opposing the initiative as racist. The 30-second ad, paid for by the conservative Family Council Action Committee, at one point features a black actor portraying a drug dealer. The committee has denied that the ad was aimed at stoking racial fears and notes that it also features white actors.
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo