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Changes To Medical Marijuana Taxes A Possibility, Says Governor

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) at the state Capitol on Monday.
Jacob Kauffman

Arkansas voters approved medical marijuana earlier this month and the governor says he’s open to seeing if the voter-approved tax structure should be changed in January’s legislative session. Speaking to reporters at the state Capitol on Monday, Governor Asa Hutchinson said he hasn’t yet made up his mind on new taxes or shifting where marijuana revenue should go.

“The amendment that’s presented by the people does designate certain items for where the money goes. I think we need to closely examine that, as to whether that’s the right place for the funds and the right distribution of it. We’re in the process of looking at that and I’ll work with the legislature on it,” said Hutchinson.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment sends 50 percent of proceeds to vocational and technical institutions; 30 percent to general revenue; 10 percent to workforce training; 5 percent to the Department of Health; 4 percent to the Alcohol Beverage Control Division; and 1 percent to a new regulatory commission. The Republican governor, formerly the head of the DEA, expects to appoint commissioners in 2-to-3 weeks.

While short on specifics at this juncture, Hutchinson said he has expectations for the medical marijuana programs revenue stream.

“I want to make sure the general revenue is made whole and that we don’t start losing money on it. I don’t want to subsidize our marijuana program by taking funds away from education and other needs of this taste,” he said.

Hutchinson continued, noting he’s allocated $3 million from the state’s rainy day fund to help get the program off the ground.

“We’ve already advanced money, we’ve got to make sure we are able to recoup from the industry that provides that marijuana medicine. We’ve got to look at what the proper fees and taxes will be,” he said. “We’re right now concentrating on who the commission’s going to be, the regulatory process, working with the agencies, and we’re not to the point yet to put a cost figure on those items.”

The Department of Health and ABC have less than 120 days to prepare their regulatory framework. Some legislators have suggested pushing it back to 180 days. The Arkansas Times reports amendment backer David Couch is amenable to that desire. Voters approved the amendment with 53 percent support.

KARK’s Drew Petrimoulx asked the governor, who has previously been in the employ of the National Rifle Association, if medical marijuana patients should be allowed to purchase firearms. After about 16 seconds of silence, including the governor re-stating the question, he answered.

“I’m not prepared to answer that question. First of all there has to be some controls on purchasing a weapon with anybody that might be under, if they’re under other kinds of medication that might not put them in a position to operate machinery for example, or operate a firearm….that is a federal question,” said Hutchinson. “I’ll look for federal guidance on that.”

Jacob Kauffman is a former news anchor and reporter for KUAR.
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