Marijuana, the growth and distribution of medical marijuana, was the major topic at the Quorum Court meeting Thursday, Aug. 17. A number of people were in attendance both to hear from - and offer opinions on - medical marijuana in Van Buren County.
Two groups presented to the court, each representing an organization which wanted to but both a site for growing marijuana and a second site for the dispensing of medical marijuana to patients holding a prescription.
Medical marijuana in Arkansas was approved by voters in the November election, passing in Van Buren County with 52 percent of the vote. Since then the state legislature has formed the legal requirements for the growth and distribution of medical marijuana, as well as the qualifying conditions to be prescribed the drug. Both groups cited to the court the state requirements as being the minimum they would follow, including requirements for security and production purity.
The first group presented was by Stephen Shrum with Arkansas Natural Products LLC. As the first presenter he had more opportunity to review the state requirements with the court, adding that his own background as a nurse-anesthetist is what led to his drive to be able to provide medical marijuana to patients in need.
The second group was presented by Joan Warren, a Clinton High School grad and businessperson, with Seven Hyper Corp. She expressed her long-standing affection for the county, based on her roots here, and her belief in medical marijuana. She described the pain her parents went through as they - without marijuana being available - suffered in their final years with the pain of disease.
“There are people who really need this,” Warren said.
As the presentations essentially overlapped, both representatives speaking to - among other topics - the utility of medical marijuana, Warren asked the court a question related to the use of opioid pain killers and the related problems with those drugs: “First, who are we to say someone can not have this [medical marijuana] to ease the pain and second, who are we to say something produced in a factory is right and something grown naturally is wrong?”
In both cases the organizations estimated their coming to the county would provide 30 to 50 new jobs, and each spoke at length about meeting the security and purity mandates put forward by the legislature. Due to these mandates the grow facilities will be built, rather than re-purposing an existing structure, each group stated, due to the security requirements such as wall thickness. The construction process is expected to bring money into the county as well.
Each group was represented not just by their spokesperson, but by corporate staff, including security head, in each case and doctor who was a member of the board and other corporate functionaries to assure professional operation of the facility.
At issue was, the court was told, not just the court support, but the need for support which could be presented to the legislature, as only five grow facilities are expected to be approved for Arkansas. Without the support of the county, it was implied, the chances of a grow facility or dispensary in the county were poor.
Others spoke on the matter, including Sheriff Scott Bradley who supported medical marijuana. “It was passed, it’s legal, it’s a medicine,” Bradley said. He spoke of the 143 drug arrests in the county for methamphetamine and opioid pills and how medical marijuana was a chance to break that cycle.
City of Clinton Mayor Richard McCormac also voiced his support for medical marijuana. Several City of Clinton City Council members were in attendance, including Gayla Bradley who cited the economic impact marijuana facilities would have for the area.
Court Justices each asked questions in turn with questions about location answered with dispensary in Clinton, and grow facilities out of town. And the most passionate answer came to Justice Dale James question “Why are you here?”
Each cited the need not just to explain to the county what plans were underway, but the need for the county, including government officials, to support having the facilities here, the real need being for letters from county officials to go with the application packet, showing county support.
The session ended with County Judge Roger Hooper addressing the court and the assembled stating that he had, initially, opposed medical marijuana, voting against the ballot initiative in November. Then how, “… over time, reading and talking about it - talking to people who need to use it - it’s [medical marijuana] got it’s place.
Hooper also cited the legislature doing a “great job” in structuring medical marijuana legal requirements, adding that the 30 to 50 jobs would be a .6 percent increase in county jobs, at a time when the county was suffering from high unemployment.
“I’m, tonight, willing to give that support,” Hooper said, “I’m going to write letters in support of this. I’m not going to stay neutral.”
The body then moved on to other matters before the court.
In other Quorum Court matters:
The animal control ordinance, the so-called “leash law,” which was inadvertently repealed during changes to the animal shelter structure, were re-enacted, giving the county the ability to write citations for violations. One addition was the addition of an exception for livestock added for clarification.
Resolutions were passed to add two part-time and one full-time officer to the jail staff, and one full-time officer to the sheriff’s deputies. These were to fill existing jobs that had come vacant.