It’s been exactly 808 days — well over two years — since the majority of Arkansas voters in the November 2016 statewide election voted in favor of a ballot initiative which would legalize the use of medicinal marijuana in Arkansas. Voters gave the thumbs up for natural healing in the Natural State but two years later are still waiting for a chance at healing.
The thumbs up from voters came as part of a ballot initiative to amend the Arkansas Constitution, which would allow the use of medical cannabis in our state. Issue 6, the Medical Marijuana Amendment, was approved by 53.1 percent of Arkansas voters. Before they could even think about getting a majority vote on the issue, proponents of Issue 6 had to acquire petition signatures from 10 percent of Arkansans across at least 15 counties who voted in the last gubernatorial race. Twice, concerned Arkansans complied with the law to make new forms of healing available to their family, friends and neighbors. But now they’ve been met with meddling lawmakers.
Currently, 808 days after the 2016 vote, the will of the citizens has yet to be carried out. Arkansans suffering from an array of illnesses are waiting for lawmakers and policy implementers to stop dragging their feet on the issue. Our friends, family, neighbors, colleagues and peers are being denied access to treatment opportunities.
Let me first say, however, that I get it. I really do. Change takes time. Policy making and implementation are incremental in nature. It’s a slow process, and Rome wasn’t built in one day. In the name of deadline extensions and changes in leadership, the implementation process for medical marijuana treatment in Arkansas has been delayed. But it’s not incremental change that I’m worried about. What I’m worried about are Arkansas’s elected officials meddling in what Arkansans decided should and would be law — 808 days ago.
But wait, there’s more.
Last week, Sen. Bob Ballinger, a senator from District 5 in the Arkansas Senate, introduced a bill which would allow state officials to meddle, once again, in what Arkansas voters decided would be law two months ago.
In the last statewide election, Arkansans passed another ballot issue. This time, voters gave the thumbs up for a statewide wage hike. 68.5 percent of voters gave the directive for lawmakers and business owners to assume the responsibility of increasing the state’s minimum wage over the course of the next three years. In the new wage directive, the state’s minimum wage was to be raised to $11 an hour by 2021. At the start of the new year, the wage increased from $8.50 to $9.25 an hour as part of the implementation process.
Now, Ballinger’s bill, if passed by the House and the Senate and signed by the governor, would exempt different groups from the wage increase; this includes employees under 18, employees at businesses with fewer than 50 employees, employees at nonprofits and employees at both public and private schools, colleges and universities. In fact, it wouldn’t just exempt them. It would subject these workers — including you, my fellow student workers — back to a $7.25 hourly wage. Sorry about the study abroad trip you’re saving up for. Our lawmakers just like to meddle.
Like I said earlier, this isn’t an argument and discussion about the incremental nature of policy making. I get it. Things take time. But does it really take 808 days? Did you know that Oklahomans approved similar medical marijuana provisions on June 26, 2018, and operations in their state are already underway? Did you know that the wage retreat would be to the pitiful federal wage of $7.25?
This frankly isn’t even an issue of whether or not you feel one way or another about medical marijuana or minimum wage. It’s an issue of state lawmakers meddling in what Arkansas voters decided should be law. If you feel the same way I do, let someone know. Sen. Ballinger’s email address is email@example.com, and the Medical Marijuana Commission can be contacted at 501-682-1105.