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OPINION | NWA EDITORIAL: Outlook is hazy

Courts prescribing marijuana use? by NWA Democrat-Gazette | February 20, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.
This Sept. 30, 2016, file photo shows a marijuana bud before harvesting at a rural area near Corvallis, Ore. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)

One trouble with political prescriptions such as how Arkansas has set up its treatment of marijuana is that it creates a bit of fuzziness, not from the drug itself, but in how institutions handle it.

Medical marijuana is legal in Arkansas, thanks to a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution. But it's still an illegal drug as far as the federal government is concerned. And the drug's long history in this country -- whether it's the "unspeakable scourge" of 1936's "Reefer Madness" or the active ingredient of "Up in Smoke" -- have created policies and perceptions that are, to borrow a term, dazed and confused.

In some states, the drug's recreational use is legal. In others, it can land a person in jail.

In Arkansas, the establishment really didn't want to have anything to do with legal marijuana, but the people had other plans. In 2016, voters passed Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution to allow medical marijuana that's available, basically, with a doctor's note that the drug might just help a person's diagnosed condition, as long as that condition was among those listed in state law.

That's not to say the doctors provide a prescription, which is what they dole out as needed for other controlled substances. As far as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is concerned, marijuana is not approved for the treatment of any disease or condition.

Now more about that fuzziness. It turns out, according to reporting by this newspaper the other day, that circuit judges have gotten entangled in marijuana use, in a manner of speaking.

Even though a person could come before the judges charged with a crime related to marijuana, circuit judges also find themselves having to decide from time to time whether someone on probation will be allowed to ingest marijuana for a medical reason made permissible under the 2016 amendment.

The state has almost 67,000 people who hold state-issued medical marijuana ID cards. It's a sure bet some of them are going to be probationers. The conditions of probation are set by the court, so probation officers are obligated to follow the court's orders.

How odd it must be for circuit judges to be in the position of determining whether someone uses marijuana. It's a strange legal entanglement arising from the schizophrenic ways our country goes about dealing with the drug -- is it an illicit form of abuse or a medicine?

Fortunately, judges are used to balancing contradictory policies or societal attitudes.

If someone appearing in their court because of a crime just happens, say, to be a multiple sclerosis patient, why should that legal trouble become a barrier to a treatment anyone else in the state in the same medical situation has access to?

Maybe one day our nation will figure how it wants to treat marijuana. For now, the judges will just have to deliberate what's right on a case-by-case basis.

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What’s the point?

In the nation’s confused approach to marijuana, judges have to get involved when probationers need medical pot.

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