- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. June 4, 2017.

The old expression “may you live in interesting times” was coined long before Arkansas voters set the state on a crash course to implement the growing and selling of marijuana for relief of certain medical conditions.

But interesting times these will be.

The reporting staff of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette recently delivered an informative three-day series on the issues Arkansans face as their state gets into the marijuana business. Even though 53 percent of Arkansas voters last November said “yes” to a constitutional amendment authorizing a process for marijuana use, cultivation and sales, the drug remains a controlled - i.e., illegal - substance in the eyes of the federal government. That, and the fact voters did not authorize a marijuana free-for-all, means setting up a system from scratch is no simple task.

Compassion was behind the votes of many Arkansans. They’ve heard so many stories of people whose conditions will in no way be cured by medical marijuana, but who have experienced the easing of symptoms or side effects by ingesting marijuana in one form or another. Making them criminals in the process just didn’t seem right. Voters got to the point they could not understand why so many substances can be put to effective use by the pharmaceutical companies but marijuana for some reason had to be off limits. It just seemed like reefer madness in a way entirely opposite of that misguided effort of the ‘50s to warn teens away from the mind-altering drug.

If we’re honest, we must allow that others voted for medical marijuana as a gateway to greater permissiveness, the old chipping away of resistance, but recreational marijuana was not legalized last year and it won’t be a part of the Arkansas experience - that is, unless those creating the system of cultivation facilities and dispensaries fail miserably in keeping the drug supply limited to those in medical need. Above all, medical marijuana must be safe and secure.

Voter approval of medical marijuana has created a million unanswered questions, ranging from how doctors will react to how employers should respond.

Doctors, under the law, will serve as a form of gatekeeper. The amendment identifies 18 qualifying conditions. Doctors don’t write a formal prescription, but would provide a note affirming the patient’s condition and an evaluation that the benefits of marijuana outweighs its possible drawbacks.

Plenty of doctors didn’t even want to discuss the matter with reporters, which raises questions about how many will be willing to travel that path with their patients. Or will some doctors earn the reputation for being an easy source for permission while others simply refuse to consider marijuana as a part of treatment? The fact that the marijuana will be locally grown in five cultivation facilities across the state means dosages and delivery methods will vary widely.

Perhaps the most challenging aspects of partial legality arises in the workplace. What are employers supposed to do when a state policy gives residents a legal way to consume marijuana but with little guidance for how businesses should respond when an employee actually does so?

How many companies have drug-free workplaces? Plenty, if they have the safety of their customers and their workers in mind. And they can ill afford to change their ways when liability rests with them if something tragic happens. Imagine a forklift operator plowing into a co-worker or customer and causing injuries. The presence of marijuana, whether medical or otherwise, would greatly complicate the company’s defense in civil litigation.

And yet David Couch, the lawyer who championed the medical marijuana measure, says an employer sticking to a drug-free policy and applying it to someone authorized to use medical marijuana could end up in court. Why? He included language in the amendment that says authorized users “shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty under any manner or denied any right or privilege, including without limitation a civil penalty or disciplinary action by a business, occupational or professional licensing board or bureau, for the medical use of marijuana.”

Nothing about this law and its goal to deliver compassionate options to the ailing should require businesses to expose their workers or customers to increased dangers or themselves to liabilities. Alcohol is a legal substance, for example, but a heavy equipment operator can’t show up drunk to work, at least at most companies, and expect to work. Employers have a broad responsibility to keep people they employ from being impaired in any way if it relates to safety.

We are not arguing against medical marijuana. It’s sad to say we expect there to be plenty of litigation ahead to figure out the operational boundaries of allowing marijuana use. Maybe that’s just how things have to be to figure out the limits of such a big cultural shift.

Arkansans can figure it all out and, we hope, achieve the worthwhile goal of delivering hope for relief to what is likely thousands of people facing medical challenges. Regardless of how one ultimately feels about marijuana, most of us can appreciate the benefits of relieving another person’s discomfort. If we accomplish that as a state, we’ve reached a new high.

___

Texarkana Gazette. June 5, 2017.

It wasn’t all that long ago that tattoos were rarely seen. Now they are increasingly common on people from all walks of life.

That’s as true here in Texarkana as other places in the world. And opinions vary. Some love tattoos. Some aren’t quite so keen.

It’s a personal choice. But if you decide to get some ink - or some more ink - it also means being aware of potential risk.

For example, according to a recent article in the BMJ Case Reports medical journal, a Texas man, 31, decided to go swimming in the Gulf of Mexico about five days after getting a new tattoo.

Since the tattoo had not healed it was an easy target for bacteria, in this case Vibrio vulnificus, which can cause a number of pretty scary problems, including septic shock and necrosis - the dreaded “flesh eating” condition that can result in amputations. About 25 percent of those infected die.

Including the Texas man. He became ill and was hospitalized. He already had a chronic liver condition and that made the infection even more dangerous. He died about two months after being hospitalized.

Tattoo artists warn their clients not to swim or take a tub bath until the tattoo heals. That could be three weeks or longer, according to some professional sources.

But do their clients always listen? This man didn’t. And as summer comes the urge to display new ink in a bathing suit may unwisely outweigh caution.

Resist the urge. Showers and approved tattoo cleaning methods are fine. But no ocean, no lake, no river, no pool, no hot tub, not even a bathtub until the site is healed completely. And if there is any doubt, ask a tattoo professional.

It’s the kind of thing that no one thinks will happen to them. Including that unfortunate man from Texas.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. June 6, 2017.

He weighs 350 pounds, stands 9 feet tall, and should stop traffic in soon-to-be-bustling downtown Jasper, Arkansas. His antlers are due to come in by the time the statue gets its grand unveiling this month at the 20th Annual Buffalo River Elk Festival, when all eyes should be on its most prominent new resident, Newt the Elk, as he makes his debut. “If we put the antlers on now, we won’t be able to get it out the garage door,” said Alderman Michael Thomas, who’s also a state trooper and stage manager for Newton County’s latest tourist attraction of so many. For as our good neighbors in Oklahoma are wont to say, all roads here lead to roam.

Newt’s antlers, like the latest in computerized dental implants, are first screwed on, then they’ll be tack-welded to his massive head to make sure they’ll be as permanent as they can be in this ever transient world. The big buck, all of bronze-plated aluminum, is environmentally kosher, too, for he’s made of recycled materials and is green underneath his deerskin - though he’ll look as if he were made of bronze as he ages gracefully at the corner of Court and Stone streets on Arkansas 7. The perfect setting for this monument to nature in the Natural State.

Newt (short for Newton County) was named by Jasper’s mayor, Her Honor Jan Larson, who clearly knows what’s in a name: a lot. Thanks to free-will offerings, Newt was bought from a company in Boulder, Colorado. Newt’s slab has already been poured with care. He’s to face the intersection so townspeople and tourists can appreciate the full effect. With his head turned to his right above his impressive shoulders, Newt should be king of all he surveys, holding court amongst those eager to snap a selfie with him. When they aren’t having lunch in a local eatery or sightseeing.

“We’re doing this for economic development,” says Mayor Larson with her knack for stating the obvious. “We want people to stop. We want to create interest.” Consider it created, ma’am, for who wouldn’t want to see, pet, or just gaze in admiration at this roadside attraction? But if you’re not stalking deer, even artificial ones, there’s still plenty to see and do in Newt Country such as:

- Visit fabled Triple Falls

- Float the Buffalo River

- Tour the honestly named Emma’s Museum of Junk.

- Stop by the Hilary Jones Wildlife Museum.

- Have a good time with the kids at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, complete with its zipline.

- For only slightly more urban types, make a point of going to Spring Street Arts in the heart of Greater Jasper.

- Try the Indian Creek Trail.

- Or just camp out. Hey, it’s summertime and the living’s easy. Hunting, fishing, hiking, just gazing up at the starlit skies free of the cities’ light pollution. Enjoy Arkansas and specifically Jasper, where the welcome mat is always out. Just don’t shoot Newt, the city’s and the state’s newest star.

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