Arkansas Voters Pass Amendment To Legalize Medical Marijuana

Submitted by Firm:
Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C.
Firm Contacts:
Abtin Mehdizadegan, J. Bruce Cross, Misty Wilson Borkowski

Issue 6, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, was approved by Arkansas voters yesterday with a 53-47% approval margin. Even though marijuana is illegal under federal law, more than half of U.S. states allow recreational or medical use of the drug, with Arkansas being one of the first southern states to approve it.

Once enacted, Issue 6 amends the Arkansas Constitution to allow patients diagnosed with qualifying medical conditions to apply for a state-issued registration card. Holders of a permit card may purchase certain quantities of marijuana from licensed dispensaries within Arkansas. The amendment lists 12 conditions that would qualify, including cancer, Crohn's Disease and post-traumatic stress disorder, along with chronic, persistent back spasms and intractable pain, and seizures. It also authorizes the Arkansas Department of Health to add other qualifying medical conditions.

Many questions still remain as Governor Hutchinson and the Arkansas Legislature must work to implement regulations controlling the use of medical marijuana. State agencies will have up to 120 days (March 7, 2017) to implement rules and regulations pertaining to their duties with regard to the new rights. Within the next month, Gov. Hutchinson and legislative leaders must appoint five people to the newly created Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission.

What Does This Mean For Employers?

Issues surrounding the use of medical and recreational marijuana use and workplace rights still exist, and they will remain until federal laws criminalizing marijuana are amended.  Specifically, the new law states that patients and caregivers "shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner or denied any right or privilege, including without limitation a civil penalty or disciplinary action by a business, occupational, or professional licensing board for the medical use of marijuana."  Due to the wording of Issue 6, retaliation claims filed by employees lawfully using medical marijuana appear likely, as well as questions surrounding accurate testing methods of medical marijuana for "current impairment" while an employee is on the job versus "recent use" while not working.

Now is the time to review your Employee Handbook and/or drug testing policy to ensure compliance with Arkansans' new medical marijuana rights.