Talk Business & Politics: Senate candidates Altes, Glidewell, Pitsch tackle topics from medical marijuana ‘corruption’ to tort reform

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Just 17 days after their first debate, Arkansas District 8 Senate candidates Denny Altes, Frank Glidewell, and Rep. Mat Pitsch reconvened to answer questions on a several statewide issues in a debate hosted by the Sebastian County Republican Party.

Topping the list were medical marijuana, support for or against Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, tort reform, how to manage tax cuts and a balanced budget, and the Fort Smith Public Schools’ proposed millage increase. Questions were asked by Talk Business & Politics Executive Editor Michael Tilley. The debate was held at the Senior Activity Center in Fort Smith.

On the question of what the legislature should do, if anything, to relieve the stalled process of medical marijuana implementation, House Majority Leader Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, drew a parallel between the present and past corruption amid formation of the Highway Commission in the 1960s. Pitsch said something “similar” was going on with medical marijuana.

Pitsch credited Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller for having the foresight to realize that “legislators involved with highways is a bad thing, because they threatened to control budgets until they got something done.” So, Pitsch said, Rockefeller formed the Highway Commission consisting of a commissioner from each congressional district.

“It’s worked fairly well because it keeps the legislators from micromanaging how we build highways and the good of the state is represented. That same plan was set up when we went into medical marijuana. There’s a medical marijuana commission. We, as a legislature, set up a framework for them to exist. We passed six bills with some very specific things we wanted. But we are, much like the highway department, not allowed to go say, ‘I want a highway from here to here,’ or ‘I want the medical marijuana to do this or to do that.’ It’s commissioners that control the medical marijuana.”

Pitsch said he was not allowed to get into the data, but said the issue now is “that some commissioners knew who the growers and dispensers were and were pushing things that direction.” He said there was “corruption involved in the commission level, and that’s why it’s stalled.”

Pitsch also reiterated his opposition to medical marijuana in general. Altes was no supporter, but favored a bill to allow medical marijuana in a non-smoking form. Glidewell said that while he is not for expanding marijuana laws or use of the drug recreationally, he “wouldn’t keep it from someone who needs it,” such as cancer patients.

THV11: Arkansans looking to add bipolar disorder to medical marijuana treatment list

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LITTLE ROCK. Ark. (KTHV) – While medical marijuana has been put to a halt here in Arkansas, some people are pushing to get more medical conditions approved for the drug.

The Arkansas Department of Health held a public meeting Monday to hear submissions about possibly adding bipolar disorder to the list.

Storm Nolan with Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association said the health department first has to weigh the risks and benefits of cannabis for bipolar disorder.

“This is important because this is the first test of the Department of Health’s willingness to add additional qualifying conditions,” he said.

He said according to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Constitution, the health department has no reason not to move forward with bipolar disorder.

“I think when they take into account that one of the most popular treatments, Lithium, has severe long term side effect. Cannabis is a clear winner here,” Nolan said.

Robert Brech, general counsel of the health department, said getting a new condition approved could pose some problems.

“I wouldn’t want to give anybody false hope that it’s an easy thing because they’re going to really have to show that the benefits for taking medical marijuana outweigh any risk,” Brech said.

KASU: Congressional action needed, medical marijuana proponents say

Read the full story at KASU.

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.