By John Lyon / Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK — A bill to ban smoking marijuana in all locations in Arkansas cleared a Senate committee Wednesday.
In a 5-2 vote, the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to Senate Bill 357 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow. The bill goes to the Senate.
Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana in November.
Rapert told the committee Wednesday that people should not be allowed to smoke the drug because smoking and being exposed to second-hand smoke are unhealthy. He noted that the state has spent millions to encourage people to quit smoking tobacco.
“I can’t understand anyone on the Public Health Committee agreeable to smoking when we have spent so much time and effort … to stop people from smoking even tobacco smoke,” he said.
Melissa Fults of the group Arkansans for Compassionate Care said after the vote the bill is contrary to the will of the voters, who she said voted for the amendment with the belief that people with certain conditions would “be able to smoke it to use it for a medicine.”
Because it would amend a voter-approved constitutional amendment, the bill would require a two-thirds vote in each chamber to pass.
The committee rejected SB 238 by Rapert, which would delay the medical-marijuana amendment from taking effect until medical marijuana is legalized in federal law. The bill failed for lack of a motion.
Also Wednesday, the House Rules Committee approved House Bill 1580 by Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, in a voice vote. The bill would require marijuana cultivation facilities and dispensaries to charge a 4 percent tax on marijuana sales, in addition to local and state sales taxes.
House said the state needs the tax to help support the cost of the medical-marijuana program. Fults said the tax is unnecessary, would raise the cost of marijuana for patients and would encourage a marijuana black market.
The bill goes to the House.