Arkansas, my present state of residence, is a curious sort of place. Where I live, we have one of the better creative writing programs at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and Crystal Bridges, a respectable art museum whose collection is free to view, while traveling exhibits don’t cost too much to see. We’re also home to what is at my last check the largest population of Marshallese people outside their native islands. And then there are the facts that the state is one of the poorest and most poorly educated in the nation, making the saying, “thank God for Mississippi,” little comfort. We’re the home to Walmart and a deeply Republican state as well, which may have a lot to do with our levels of income and schooling.
With regard to our politics, two recent laws suggest that perhaps things are better than I thought. The first was a voter referendum that approved the legalization of medical marijuana — approved in the same year that Donald Trump won Arkansas’s electoral votes.
The new law is not permission for just anyone to walk down the street eating special brownies, and it’s not even much help to state residents who merely want to indulge in a joint and some Cheetos while playing Pink Floyd records. The only people who will be allowed under state law to use pot will have a short list of qualifying medical conditions. It will remain illegal to consume in the places that Republicans become sanctimonious over — including the primary schools that they’re never willing to fund, leaving students with little hope. Drug treatment facilities are also off limits, appropriately or not I’ll leave to medical professionals to say. And the Health Department has been given abundant time to drag their feet over issuing licenses to growers and dispensaries.
But progress is progress, even when it’s only by inches. In a state that would very much love to forget the neo-con, excuse me, New Left Bill Clinton, much less whether he did or did not inhale, we’ll someday in the supposedly not too distant future let dying people have one last dance with Mary Jane — as long as taxes and fees have been paid, naturally.
The other law, sponsored by Charlie Collins of Fayetteville and signed by the governor on Wednesday, the 22nd of March, will allow handgun carry license holders who take extra training to carry legally on college campuses and into bars and sporting events. Carrying while under the influence of a substance — alcohol, of course, but also marijuana to connect to the previous law — is illegal in this state, and what opponents of allowing carry never seem able to explain is how this law will make things worse. As things stand at the moment — the law won’t take effect until September, and the required training won’t be available until later — colleges, sports facilities, and bars don’t have metal detectors typically or other barriers to keep guns out. The change in what’s allowed merely gives permission to licensed people who get more training to do what the law couldn’t stop people intent on doing harm from doing.
Respect for gun rights is often a Republican talking point, but there is hope in the change to our drug laws. Perhaps the grip of social conservatism is loosening. My students at least are showing an increasingly live-and-let-live attitude. And the good news is that if Arkansas can do it, your state can too.
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