Last week, Associated Press broke the news of the Arkansas Supreme Court decision that the state's adult-use cannabis ballot measure could appear on November ballots. In a similar situtation, the Oklahoma Supreme Court shot down an attempt by voters to get recreational cannabis on this November's ballot.
The decision was reached after Responsible Growth Arkansas asked the court to overturn a state Board of Election Commissioners ruling from August that said the measure could not be put on the ballot in November due to a technicality in the title language, despite the group having gathered more than enough signatures.
A Crucial Win
Without the court's go-ahead, Arkansas may have continued without cannabis legalization till next year or the next general elections.
The Board of Election Commissioners' findings that the measure's ballot title is deceptive were overruled by the judges in a 5-2 decision. The legalization campaign filed a lawsuit, and the court ruled last month that the measure would appear on the ballot due to approaching election deadlines. However, the court left open the possibility of vote counting.
Elections officials had expressed worries about potential voter confusion about the phrasing in the ballot title connected to topics like THC limitations, but the court eventually disagreed. In the court's decision, Justice Robin Wynne stated that the public will vote in November on whether to adopt the proposed modification. He noted that "initiative power lies at the heart of our democratic institutions."
He continued, "To ensure that the ballot title serves the goals of reserving this power to the people, we offered it a liberal construction and interpretation. Note that we are aware that no ballot title could ever satisfy everyone, the court stated. "In light of these criteria, we conclude that the contested ballot title is adequate to communicate a clear understanding of the significance and range of the proposed amendment.
The justices wrote that the state officials and pro-prohibition organizations who intervened in the lawsuit had not met their responsibility to prove that the ballot title was inadequate. John Thurston, the state's attorney general, and the board's head, also agreed with the board's decision that the initiative should not be considered in November.
The Ball Is In Motion
According to Steve Lancaster, an attorney for Responsible Growth Arkansas, all cannabis supporters in the state, especially the Responsible Growth Arkansas group, are incredibly grateful to the Supreme Court for agreeing. Lancaster said it was a perfect validation of everything the group has done. According to him, the team is more than prepared to win the ballots come November.
In July, the Responsible Growth Arkansas campaign turned in over 193,000 signatures, which is more than enough to qualify the constitutional amendment. Later, the secretary of state's office declared that it had examined enough petitions to verify that there were enough valid signatures to place the question on the ballot.
The first amendment legalizing adult-use cannabis in Arkansas will now be put to the vote in November after almost 200,000 Arkansans signed the Responsible Growth Arkansas petition. According to a survey conducted last week, 59 percent of potential voters approve of the legalization initiative. However, the pro-legalization campaign isn't taking victory for granted. Last month, they produced an advertisement reminding citizens that voting in favor of legalizing marijuana in the state is a "vote to support the cops."
The Proposed Adult-Use Initiative
The proposal would allocate 15% of adult-use marijuana sale tax revenue to law enforcement. Some reform proponents have voiced concern about the campaign's law enforcement elements.
Meanwhile, several republican state legislators are outspokenly opposed to the proposal. For instance, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) pushed police not to support the measure and implied its passage was a foregone conclusion.
The following are some goals the proposed measure would accomplish if successful.
Adults 21 and older will be allowed to buy and possess up to an ounce of marijuana from authorized retailers.
Cultivation at home would not be permitted.
The bill would reform the state's current medical cannabis program, which voters passed in 2016, in several ways, including relying on patient residence requirements.
Regulators would have to grant licenses to currently operating medicinal cannabis dispensaries so that they could serve adult customers as well as allow them to open a separate retail site for the selling of exclusively recreational marijuana. For 40 more adult-use businesses, licenses would be distributed via a lottery system.
The Department of Finance and Administration's Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division of the state would be in charge of overseeing the program and providing cannabis business licenses.
The state's medical marijuana laws could not be changed or repealed by the legislature without voter consent.
If voters approve the decision, local governments may run elections to ban adult-use retailers from operating within their borders.
Anyone could acquire shares in over 18 dispensaries.
There would be limitations on promotions and advertisements, including the need for marijuana products to be supplied in tamper-proof packaging.
Instead of the present medical cannabis law's limit of 50 plants, dispensaries would be allowed to grow and keep up to 100 plants.
In addition to the current state and municipal sales taxes, the state may apply an additional surcharge of up to 10% on sales of recreational cannabis.
Law enforcement would receive 15% of the tax money, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences would receive 10%, and the state drug court program would receive 5%. (five percent). The state general fund would receive the remaining funds.
Background checks would no longer be required for those who hold less than 5% of a marijuana company.
The Responsible Growth Arkansas group is one of many pro-cannabis campaign groups in Arkansas. Although many of these groups pursued cannabis reform through the ballot, most could not gather sufficient signatures to qualify this year. Some people have stated they would attempt again in 2024 using other strategies.
Supporters of the independent campaigns Arkansas True Grass and Arkansans for Marijuana Reform have voiced concerns about the clauses of the Responsible Growth Arkansas proposal, claiming that they would favor large corporations in the already-existing medicinal cannabis market.