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Congressional action needed, medical marijuana proponents say

Brandon Tabor

Despite the belief by Gov. Asa Hutchinson that medical marijuana use will likely remain consistent under President Donald Trump, others were uncertain of the impact a decision by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will have on the state’s medical marijuana industry, which is projected to also help the state’s economy.

Sessions on Thursday (Jan. 4) rescinded the Obama administration’s so-called Cole memo adopted by former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder in 2013, and said his department would return to the rule of law directed by Congress and follow well-established principles when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana activities.

Storm Nolan, founder and president of the Fort Smith-based Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association, said the group does not think Sessions’ ruling will survive public opinion.

“The majority of the country has voted for cannabis, medical and adult-use. Seems like a political diversion,” he told Talk Business & Politics.

Some form of marijuana use has been legalized in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Oklahoma voters will decide on medical marijuana legalization on June 26.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Association (AMMA), the state’s other cannabis industry trade group in Little Rock, said it has hopes Congress will adopt new legislation to ensure the federal government does not interfere with states’ rights to legalize and administer medical marijuana laws.

“In light of this news, the (AMMA) calls on the Arkansas congressional delegation to support reauthorization of the bipartisan Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment as part of the 2018 budget,” the AMMA said in a statement.

Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for AMMA, said the group has not yet approached Arkansas’ Congressional delegation to formally lobby for the amendment.

Talk Business & Politics reached out to all six members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation concerning the DOJ’s update to the nation’s federal marijuana enforcement policy but did not receive a response.

Dan Roda, chief legal officer for Little Rock startup MediPays, also said he hopes Arkansas’ Congressional delegation takes the lead on the Rohrbacher-Blumenauer amendment. However, even without those protections, Roda believes Arkansas’ newest industry will still be okay when the Medical Marijuana Commission scores and hands outs awards for five operators for the state’s first marijuana growing facilities at the board’s next public meeting on Feb. 27. At that meeting, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is expected to award five licenses for medical pot greenhouses and 32 permits to operate up to 40 retail locations in eight quadrants of the state.

“I think the ‘big picture’ takeaway in respect to the Arkansas medical marijuana industry is that the sky is not falling. Not right now,” said Roda, an attorney for the Little Rock startup that plans to provide banking payment options to medical marijuana businesses and entrepreneurs.

Talk Business and Politics airs on KASU 91.9 FM on Mondays and Fridays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:51 am.  It also airs during NPR’s All Things Considered on Wednesdays at 5:20 pm.  You can follow more of their coverage on their website TalkBusiness.net where you can also catch the latest Northeast Arkansas news.

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Wesley Brown is the Business Editor for Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached by email at wesbrocomm@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BrownOnBusiness.