The battle between Arkansas proponents of the two medical marijuana efforts that will appear on the ballot has gotten hotter since the state supreme court struck one of them—Issue 7—after a lawsuit challenging it was filed by Little Rock attorney Kara Benca, with the support of her husband, Patrick Benca, who is also an attorney.
Both Bencas say they are longtime members of NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), that they want to see marijuana legalized, and that their concerns about Issue 7 were shared by many patients who claim to need medical marijuana.
Patrick Benca said that, due to those concerns, some of these sufferers wanted to sign on as the petitioners in a lawsuit challenging Issue 7. However, fearing that the lawsuit would anger other medical-marijuana proponents, and not wanting people already in pain to face that potential reaction, the Bencas decided that Kara would file as the sole petitioner.
Patrick Benca now says that he and Kara underestimated how fierce the response to their lawsuit would become. To illustrate the intensity of the debate among legalization proponents—and to explain his and his wife’s position—he sent me the following email from an irate supporter, along with his response.
I asked permission to publish them. He agreed. I have edited both slightly for clarity.
First, the email from a supporter who knew Patrick Benca from years ago:
“Long time since we bartended together. I never did think your wife would be SO against trying to get Medical Cannabis OFF the ballot. I guess neither of you have experienced someone that has battled cancer.
“I have three friends that have fought. Two have passed since 2012. I am disgusted with your decision to go after Arkansas Compassion. Opiates are what you need to go after! People die every day on those meds, and there is NOT a single recorded death from marijuana.
“Doctors won’t get on board because they are afraid of losing their licenses and outrageous salaries. Marijuana will bring in millions of tax dollars to our state, and the positives outweigh the negatives by a long shot.
“I am pretty sure the pharmaceutical companies and/or politicians are paying you under the table to go after this ‘volunteered organization’ that spent MANY hours/months over the last two years to get signatures. I am saddened that y’all decided to make this decision. You two should sit down with some popcorn this weekend and watch some YouTube. You might get educated for a change.”
The writer, who signed himself “Sincerely Pissed,” then provided links to the following videos:
Here is Patrick Benca’s response:
“As with everyone I have respect for, I always make sure that he/she gets fair shake and the benefit of the doubt. You will always get that from me. So, I am asking that you read what I have to say.
“My wife and I are for the outright legalization of marijuana. Period. That has always been our position. We began to understand this long before the opioid epidemic began getting the attention it does today. For years I have seen the faces and represented the lost souls of those addicted to opioids and other heinous drugs. I’ve seen more than you. I promise.
“So…marijuana. Here is what I have not seen in the last 16 years of my criminal defense experience:
“A client state that he killed, robbed, raped, or committed any other criminal act because of marijuana. Of course, the exception is those who engaged in transportation and delivery of this now-illegal drug. Another factor as to why legalizing Is the way to go. I’m sure you and I can both wax on about the benefits of this truly wonderful plant.
“Medical Marijuana: I know this subject inside and out. I know the medical benefits through and through. There is not much I do not know on the subject. My wife and I have made it a passion. Our area of practice has given us opportunities to hear compelling stories. We have had a handful of clients who were veterans of our recent wars. I know the struggles of PTSD and have seen the miracle transition that marijuana provides. It’s breathtaking.
“I lay this brief summary of a background to possibly instill in you the passion my wife and I have on this issue.
“That said, issues 6 and 7: 6 is an amendment and 7 is an initiated act. Big difference. The amendment, if passed, would make it exceedingly difficult for legislators (a majority that oppose it) to slow down its implementation come January 1. If Issue 7 passed, the legislature would have a great amount of control and would promulgate rules to get it implemented and up and running. This is one of the reasons why more signatures are required to get the amendment on the ballot.
“In short, with Issue 6, the patients that need medical marijuana in Arkansas would have it likely far sooner than with the initiative (issue 7). With 6, you have nearly a bullet-proof piece of law that can only be undone by voters on a ballot after its passage AND it’s in the hands of patients faster.
“Self-Grow: this is the provision that prevented the medical marijuana act to be passed in 2012. The sponsors on that act polled medical marijuana before running the petitions and getting it on the ballot. They had the numbers and it appeared that 55 to 60 percent of voters were in favor. Very solid numbers. It got on the ballot and failed at the election box. The sponsors couldn’t figure out what the problem was. So, they conducted a poll. They figured out that the failure was due to the ‘self grow’ provision. Arkansas voters were not comfortable with patients living outside the zone of a dispensary growing plants without regulation. These polls corroborated the voting percentages seen on Election Day. It was a huge defeat for the cause.
“The sponsors went back to the drawing board. Initially, I believe both David Couch [who backed Issue 6] and and Melissa Fults [who backed Issue 7] wanted self-grow, but Couch was convinced that voters weren’t comfortable with it yet. So … baby steps. Ultimately, Couch and Fults split on the point and worked hard on advancing their respective issues.
“They are great people. Passionate in all aspects. David felt that the initiative was on the path of failing again because it included self-grow. If he was right, there would be nothing in Arkansas until another presidential cycle in 2020. There is no advocate that could let that happen. Too risky.
“We found out about the signature problem with Issue 7 about the same time others learned. It was known and a lawsuit was coming. Better it came from a medical marijuana supporter than an opponent. A lawsuit from an outright opponent of medical marijuana would have most assuredly killed both come election time.
“So, we decided to file. We had patients desperate to be the petitioner in this lawsuit because they felt, as we did, that the initiative would fail for a number of reasons, but most concerning was the self-grow aspect. They wanted assurance they could get access to marijuana sooner rather than later.
“Also, we had doctors who know the benefits of marijuana that wanted to be the petitioner. We decided that we did not want to put the very people that were meant to benefit from all of this work at risk of public scrutiny and professional scorn.
“Kara had no problems taking the heat for this cause. She didn’t even flinch. I don’t believe she would have ever fathomed the sheer hate sent her way. The threats. Being called a cunt. Right now, she is with my children at her parents’ house because of all this. My children had to be taken out of school. This is the thanks that she gets. And she is getting it from the very people she has had empathy for. Pretty fucked up, if you ask me. But not everyone is me, right?
“There is nobody who prays harder and thinks more about the people who would benefit from medical marijuana than Kara. She knows more and has seen more than you and I put together.
“Timing of the lawsuit: A lot of complaints are that voters do not get the opportunity to revisit the ballot box because they have already cast their vote. This isn’t the supreme court’s fault. The lawsuit was filed at the earliest possible moment. The rules in place and the procedures that you have to follow make it nearly impossible to get a measure removed from the ballot prior to it being printed.
“The legislature needs to change the timelines and deadlines to ensure sufficient time to challenge and, if successful, to have an issue scrubbed from the ballot. This would help ensure that voters are not disenfranchised, which is exactly how they feel right now. I understand that and dig their frustration. They need to call their legislator to get the laws and rules changed.
“In sum, it is clear that many have not educated themselves as to both measures. If they had, they would know that:
- The amendment is the best law. It would be virtually here to stay.
- It was the most likely to win on Election Day.
- It is the best law to get patients the marijuana they need soonest (always the most important consideration).
- Self-grow will eventually get here. Our hope is that marijuana is fully legal within the next eight years.
Now add in all of the other benefits you mentioned in your email to me.
“Kara and I do not deserve your or anyone else’s snarky remarks, threats, and hateful words. Your words disappoint me.”