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.