LITTLE ROCK — A group advocating for a state law legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes will make a two-day pitch to lawmakers during the first week of the 2011 legislative session. 

Arkansans for Medical Cannabis has scheduled a program for Jan. 12 and 13 in the state Capitol’s second-floor rotunda. The Legislature convenes Jan. 10.

"There’s 30 major medical problems that (marijuana has) been shown to either substantially help or alleviate some of the high-dollar opiates that people take to combat these diseases," said Robert Reed of Van Buren County, the group’s spokesman.

Physicians, law enforcement officers and patients who use medical marijuana will be on hand to provide information to legislators, Reed said. 

Fifteen states — none in the South — and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis. 

State Sen. Randy Laverty, D-Jasper, who received a liver transplant last year as part of his treatment for liver cancer, has said he plans to file a bill in the 2011 session to legalize medical cannabis.

Laverty is vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor, one of two Senate committees most likely to consider such legislation. The other would be the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Public Health Committee Chairman Sen. Percy Malone, D-Arkadelphia, said he would need to study the bill and learn how similar laws have worked in other states, but he is inclined to support the idea.

"There’s just too much evidence that the terminally ill, that cannabis has been a very good drug to help them have a better quality of life at the end of their lives," said Malone, a pharmacist.

But Sen. Jim Luker, D-Wynne, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would not be inclined to support such a bill.

"I don’t know that that’s a wise thing to attempt to, by a state law, make something legal that’s still a violation of federal law," said Luker, a lawyer. "And I think the experience in some of the states, like California, has been that they can’t really control it, they can’t limit it to medicinal uses."

Reed said his group has contacted nearly every member of the state Legislature. About 20 have expressed support for the idea, and many others are undecided, he said.

"We’re extremely, extremely confident," Reed said.

The group wants a law that would allow doctors to prescribe cannabis, allow patients to use it with a prescription and allow caregivers and patients to grow it.

Reed said the issue is personal for him for two reasons: His wife is a cancer patient, and he is a disabled Vietnam War veteran.

"Our veterans here in Arkansas are going to be denied coverage if they show up positive on a urinalysis test, when cannabis has been proved to help things like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and amputation pain," he said.

If the Legislature does not pass a bill, the group plans to propose a ballot initiative, Reed said.