Medical marijuana has finally made its way to the Bible Belt, as Arkansas officially legalized the drug on Tuesday in a vote of 53.2% to 46.8%, according to the New York Times.
The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, also known as Issue 6, is an amendment to Arkansas' state constitution that officially legalizes the distribution and possession of medical marijuana. The new amendment is specifically meant for patients who have any of 17 qualifying conditions, which include cancer, Tourette's syndrome, Chrohn's disease, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder and HIV/AIDS. Patients with a written statement from a doctor certifying they have a qualifying condition will be able to purchase medical marijuana from dispensaries, and will not be permitted to grow their own marijuana plants.
Issue 6 is not the first time medical marijuana has come up on the state ballot: In 2012, Arkansas voted on the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Question, which was struck down in a vote of 51.4% to 48.5%. A separate medical marijuana proposal, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, or Issue 7, was also initially slated to be on the ballot in 2016, but was later disqualified due to invalid signatures. That proposal, unlike Issue 6, would have allowed medical marijuana patients to grow their own cannabis, as well as covered 56 medical conditions, rather than 17.
Though Issue 6 won with Arkansas voters by a decisive margin of over 6%, the initiative has been met with significant opposition by the heavily conservative Arkansas government. Gov. Asa Hutchinson openly opposed the amendment, as did Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe and such government departments as the Arkansas Department of Health and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.
In the wake of Tuesday's vote, however, these conservative politicians signaled a desire to respect the wishes of their constituents. "The people voted this in," Gov. Hutchinson said in a news conference, "and I intend to implement it according to the will of the people of Arkansas."
Arkansas is one of the first southeastern states to adopt medical marijuana legalization, along with Florida, making Tuesday's vote an important step toward nationwide legalization. After the results of the 2016 elections, 28 states now have legal medical marijuana, along with the District of Columbia.