Medical cannabis delays vexing to patients in state

Josh Nicholson wants to take his wife to the movies again, but for that, he needs cannabis.

Chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder make a two-hour film unbearable for Nicholson, and opioids and other drugs don't provide the same relief as medical-grade marijuana.

The 38-year-old moved to Arkansas from Illinois for his wife's work in 2017. Here, he expected to continue a treatment regimen that included cannabis, but shortly after he arrived, the process for allowing medical use of the drug got trapped in the slow-turning gears of government bureaucracy.

Nicholson, like 5,546 other qualified patients in Arkansas, has been vexed by the regulatory and court fights holding his medicine hostage.

"It's very discouraging," Nicholson said. "I've gotten the doctor's certification, but I can't obtain it legally. What's the purpose of it being legal if I don't have access to my medicine?"

Patients across the state now face the same question many asked themselves before Arkansans voted to legalize the controversial drug in 2016: Should they go without their medicine or obtain marijuana illegally? More and more are turning to the black market, said Melissa Fults, a longtime patient advocate.

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"They have a choice: They can suffer and die or they can break the law," Fults said. "That's seriously what it comes down to."

Many patients expected the first medical-marijuana dispensaries to open within a year of voters approving Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution, which legalized the drug.

But state government's process for implementing its medical-marijuana program has been plagued with delays from the outset, and earlier this year, the program spent nearly four months in regulatory purgatory after a lawsuit prevented the state from moving forward with the process to license the first cannabis growers and sellers.

That lawsuit -- filed by one of the companies that failed to win a cultivation permit -- was officially dismissed Tuesday, freeing the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission to issue the first growing licenses. But even the earliest projections don't have the drug available until mid-2019.

And with the threat of more legal challenges, no clear end is in sight.

Roger Halpin, a 60-year-old patient from Mulberry, has learned not to get his hopes up. The Army veteran suffers from neuropathy in both legs, a herniated disc in his back, post-traumatic stress disorder and arthritis.

"I've totally lost trust in the state," he said. "Lies and lies and lies."

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Halpin said he sleeps better and experiences far less pain when using medical cannabis. Without it, his activity is limited, and he can't do some activities he loves, like hiking, he said.

"I'd even just like to walk through the grocery store without having to get a [motorized] cart," Halpin said.

Halpin -- Nicholson, too -- have decided to wait until medical marijuana is legally available, but other patients interviewed by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette won't wait any longer.

One 56-year-old Little Rock woman, who asked not to be quoted by name so she could discuss her drug use candidly, purchases marijuana illegally each week to treat her glaucoma and dystonia -- a disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions and cramps.

She worries about the quality of the drugs she purchases, whether they're the right strain at a fair price. She worries that a police officer will knock on her door one day and take away her freedom and monthly disability checks.

But she's tired of waiting, and the risk is worth taking.

"Because of how much better I feel," she said. "It lightens the pain and puts me in a mood to do my stretches."

LaRee Williams Treece, 57, was approved for a patient card because she has fibromyalgia, and other drugs cause her to have an allergic reaction. For Treece and many others in the tight-knit patient community, the delays started back in 2016 with the fight that played out between supporters of cannabis legalization.

Treece and Fults backed a competing medical marijuana proposal in 2016 that would have included less government regulation and a provision that would allow patients to grow their own cannabis. That measure -- known as Issue 7 -- was tossed off the ballot under a court challenge shortly before election day.

They criticize Issue 6, which became Amendment 98, for being more focused on benefiting businesses than helping patients.

Little Rock attorney David Couch, the author of Issue 6, said Issue 7 was flawed in three main ways. It polled below 50 percent; it was an initiated act, which could have been "substantially altered" by the General Assembly; and he said the system for growing licenses, which would've required nonprofit owners, would've resulted in higher patient costs because the growing operations would have been contracted out to third-party, for-profit companies.

Couch agreed that the state's rollout of Amendment 98 has lost its patient focus.

"It's been all about business so far, and that's not what it should've been about," he said. Couch has been pushing for the commission to scrap its merit-based process for issuing growing and selling permits and adopting a lottery-style system that's similar to liquor permitting.

"Let's get the medicine out there," he said. "The patients have been forgotten long enough."

Treece, Fults and other patients also pointed to the makeup of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, which includes two doctors, a pharmacist, a lobbyist and a consultant -- some of whom opposed the legalization of medical marijuana. The commission members are appointed by the heads of the executive and legislative branches.

The panel, which is in charge of issuing cultivation and dispensary licenses, should've included at least one patient or patient advocate, Fults said.

"The people who were appointed completely failed their jobs," said Fults, who is running as a Democrat for state Senate. "I don't blame them because when you appoint someone with no knowledge about what they should be doing how can they not fail?

"Patients have been forgotten from the very get-go."

Nicholson hopes he and his wife can begin going to the theater and comedy clubs again this year, but that seems unlikely even by industry insiders' most optimistic projections of when medical cannabis will be available for purchase.

Nicholson -- once he can access his medicine again -- is excited to play his guitar for more than a few minutes at a time. Until then, he'll manage as best he can.

"I don't have a choice; I have to make it," he said. "I just want my life back."

A Section on 07/12/2018


DanielR says...

Let me get my violin out! You know it's those wanting to use it for recreation are the ones screaming. Who are you trying to B.S.?

Posted 12 July 2018, 7:48 a.m. Suggest removal

merlin749 says...

More media BS, look at it calling marijuana medicine. It's not a medicine, it might be called a a "supplement" more accurately. The FDA investigates and approves medicines.

Posted 12 July 2018, 7:53 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

......." they can suffer and DIE or they can break the law"....

Melissa Fults must have majored in drama

Posted 12 July 2018, 8:03 a.m. Suggest removal

JA40 says...

It's amazing that the people of Arkansas passed amendment 98 that legalized cannabis, but rapport and his cast of idiots don't want it, so they will drag the process out as long as possible. Doesn't matter who is doing the screaming, it's legal.

Posted 12 July 2018, 8:06 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

Since " the cannabis" is such a miracle that a man with arthritis , a herniated disc, neuropathy in both legs but expects to go back to hiking once he takes " the cannabis".

That should mean that anyone who is now on Disability SS should be able to get off disability and go back to work.

Posted 12 July 2018, 8:09 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

Daniel R's first post of the day nailed it.

That is why you either should keep marijuana illegal or legalize it completely.
When the biggest advocates of medical marijuana are guys with pony tails and tattoos , you know they don't want it available for just for the suffering.

Posted 12 July 2018, 8:13 a.m. Suggest removal

doggod says...

Merlin749. Unfortunately, the FDA has been prevented from studying it properly because it is still a Schedule I drug and, therefore, cannabis studies are not eligible for funding. However, it has been studied in other parts of the world. Anyone who claims it is not medicine needs to tell that to the hundreds of families whose children no longer have a hundred seizures a day. Look, if you don't like it, don't use it. But don't deny others the right. You believe in personal freedom, right?

As for recreational use, aren't you tired of splitting families apart, stripping citizens of their rights, and building more prisons for a drug that is far less harmful than alcohol? Imagine what we could do with all the tax money in a dirt-poor state like Arkansas.

Posted 12 July 2018, 8:19 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

doggod...... do you really think the thugs carrying a gun and selling marijuana are now going to apply at Walmart for a REAL job once marijuana is legal ?

They will graduate to selling cocaine and meth.

Posted 12 July 2018, 8:31 a.m. Suggest removal

JMort69 says...

To all of you hypocrites who booze it up daily and take handsful of pills, you have no clue. I am a 66 year old woman, with no tatoos, and chronic stomach disorders that the doctors can do nothing further for. I make 6 figures in a very detail-oriented business, care for my elderly mother, 2 houses and seven acres. What do you all do with your time besides post inane rants? The ONLY way I can function is with MM. I tried all the mind-altering drugs prescribed by pill pusher doctors, and they only made it worse. I guess you would also demean the children whose seizures are helped by this medicine. You are making sweeping judgments. Exactly who appointed you the arbiter of these matters? I am not telling you what type of medical help you can or cannot get, what makes you think you have the right to tell me? Perhaps you are lucky enough not to have any health issues. If so, good for you. But, when you do, and you will, I hope some uneducated, closed-minded rube doesn't try to dictate to you what you can and can't use for relief. Over half of the states have now approved MM, so you are part of a losing, dying, outdated minority. When ill health attacks you, I hope you remember your uncaring blatherings about this issue. BTW, thank you to Mr. Field for FINALLY actually talking to some of us and using the proper terms for this issue.

Posted 12 July 2018, 8:44 a.m. Suggest removal

Toenails says...

I am a christian. I have neither a tattoo nor a ponytail, but i do have compassion for the suffering. I supported medical marijuana. I support legalization for all purposes. Anyone who would put another human in a cage for marijuana is either ignorant, evil, or both.

Posted 12 July 2018, 8:53 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

JMORT 69.......If it works that great for you that you that the only way you can work is with MM, that is great news.

Give it to everyone drawing Disabilty SS and the majority should be able to return to work and save the taxpayers lots of $$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

Posted 12 July 2018, 8:58 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

Toenails.............do you really believe people are "put in cages" ( prisons ) solely for USING marijuana ?

Posted 12 July 2018, 9:01 a.m. Suggest removal

doggod says...

GeneralFakeMac. Put down the martini.

Posted 12 July 2018, 9:55 a.m. Suggest removal

doggod says...

GM. Yes, I personally know people serving prison sentences in Arkansas and other Southern states solely for smoking cannabis. Do a little research. Also, don't you believe in personal freedom? Why do you even care about this issue?

Posted 12 July 2018, 9:59 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

dodgod............I question your use of the word..........."solely"...

Posted 12 July 2018, 10:03 a.m. Suggest removal

doggod says...

GM. Do a little research. Also, I notice that you ignored everything else I said. Why do you even care?

Posted 12 July 2018, 11:26 a.m. Suggest removal

MaxCady says...

Two words of this article sum up the whole sad situation: government bureaucracy.

Posted 12 July 2018, 12:04 p.m. Suggest removal

MaxCady says...

@JMORT69, you go, girl! Are you a married lady??!!

Posted 12 July 2018, 12:09 p.m. Suggest removal

independentlythinking says...

Stay tuned for more exciting drama on as the insanity wheels turn.....

Posted 12 July 2018, 12:28 p.m. Suggest removal

arky12 says...

Well, first of all we're dealing with a State government that doesn't like medical marijuana and secondly we're hampered with medical professionals signing off on a document that simply attests to the fact that we have a particular condition. Doctors don't even have to prescribe Cannabis just state we have condition X and they won't even do that. I was recently told by my Dr. who works for the Chi medical group that dominates my area that it's "against the rules". When I asked who's rules, the doctor walked out of the room and returned later with the website where I could find a doctor who would do that. I checked it out and the initial visit (not covered by insurance or Medicare) is $200.00, so just because doctors don't want to confirm a condition I'm supposed to fork out $200.00 to another one who requires I bring a confirmation of my condition from my current doctor who won't confirm the condition? Sounds like ring around the posies to me. Arkansas legislature could fix that by mandating that physicians in this state not be exempt from confirming a condition but they won't do that. They want it to be hard to get.

Posted 12 July 2018, 12:39 p.m. Suggest removal

LRCrookAttorney says...

Arky..." I was recently told by my Dr. who works for the Chi medical group that dominates my area that it's "against the rules"."
I have represented several doctors in trumped up charges. If a doctor writes a prescription for marijuana, he needs a DEA number. The DEA is Federal and marijuana is a schedule I drug according to the federal government. Therefore, that doctor is writing an unlawful prescription. This is basically how Texas got around medical marijuana, by requiring doctors to write a prescription, which they cannot and will not do. It is now getting so bad that if a doctor writes a prescription for say a schedule II drug, the pharmacy can say "we are not filling it, because we don't think you have an injury or pain that requires it." I have had a doctor call me to find out if there is anything that can be done.

Posted 12 July 2018, 12:48 p.m. Suggest removal

JiminyC56 says...

The citizens of our State passed this, now give the people what they voted for and quit delaying.

Posted 12 July 2018, 2:41 p.m. Suggest removal

dunk7474 says...

Generalmaccheese: Just come out of the closet, you'll be at peace FINALLY

Posted 12 July 2018, 4:36 p.m. Suggest removal

0boxerssuddenlinknet says...

but it wasn't the state that filed the bias suit and i believe it was a judge that held up further proceedings and wasn't it the state's attorney general's office that fought that judge's decision ? and finally through their diligent work had his decision ove turned??? I am also waiting for the dispensaries to be announced and was wondering since no insurance will cover it. how is the patient suppose to pay for it ?

Posted 12 July 2018, 4:51 p.m. Suggest removal

3WorldState1 says...

You asked the Gen to do research. Hilarious! That's like asking Trump to read a book.
Corruption, religion and stupidity is what is holding it up.

Posted 12 July 2018, 5:10 p.m. Suggest removal

NoUserName says...

"and finally through their diligent work had his decision ove turned???"
Which was a mistake. The awarding of the licenses was ridiculously crooked. Friends awarding friends. It SHOULD have been stopped. As for the joker who invoked the FDA, both the active ingredient AND one of the other present cannabinoids ARE FDA approved and available. So, the fact that marijuana is classified as Schedule I, which by definition means NO medical benefit, just proves that the ban on marijuana was NEVER about the drug itself. It was about the money the DEA and associated groups rake in from the so-called war on drugs. Which, at last check, 40% of which was marijuana related.

Posted 12 July 2018, 6:24 p.m. Suggest removal

LRCrookAttorney says...

Obox..."...wondering since no insurance will cover it. how is the patient suppose to pay..."
Welfare checks and money received when they trade 4 for 1 the money on there SNAP card. The busiest time for criminal defense attorneys (really public defenders because these people smoked all their money) is right after welfare and SNAP comes out. The money posts on one day and they hit the crack house until the money is gone. I represented a crack head that said he just went to the crack house every month, right after individuals received their SNAP and welfare, because they would show up and share with everyone.

Posted 12 July 2018, 7:32 p.m. Suggest removal

LRCrookAttorney says...

3W..."...like asking Trump to read a book..."
Yea we don't know for sure that he can read, but normally one that can type a comment on Twitter can read. However, we do know that he can make millions from writing (and actually selling) a book. You people just whine about too much stupid $hit. If you would focus (if at all possible) you would have a chance in life.

Posted 12 July 2018, 7:35 p.m. Suggest removal

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