Recreational Pot Question Back on Arkansas Ballot—But Will Votes Count?

The Arkansas Supreme Court this week said that a marijuana legalization proposal should be placed back on the state’s ballot, but it remains unclear whether the vote will ultimately mean anything.

It is the latest twist in what has become a messy dispute surrounding a campaign to end prohibition in the state. Earlier this month, the advocacy group Responsible Growth Arkansas filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court after the state Board of Election Commissioners rejected the group’s bid to get the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Organizers with Responsible Growth Arkansas submitted nearly 90,000 valid signatures––well above the threshold to qualify for the ballot––but the Board of Election Commissioners rejected the proposal because “commissioners said they didn’t believe the ballot title fully explained to voters the impact of the amendment,” according to the Associated Press.

“For example, commissioners said they were concerned that the amendment would repeal the state’s current limit under its medical marijuana amendment on how much THC is allowed in edible marijuana products,” the Associated Press reported.

Responsible Growth Arkansas objected to the board’s ruling, arguing that commissioners were asking for an unreasonable amount of information.

“The type of detail that the board expected, or demanded in this case, would make our ballot title thousands and thousands of words long,” Steve Lancaster, an attorney for Responsible Growth Arkansas, said after the board’s vote, as quoted by the Associated Press. “That just simply is not workable for a ballot.”

On Wednesday, the state’s high court sided with the group, but uncertainty remains high.

According to local television station KARK, “the Arkansas Supreme Court instructed Secretary of State John Thurston to certify the ballot title for [recreational] marijuana in order to place it on the November ballot,” which “will allow voters to vote in favor or against expanded access to marijuana in the state.”

But, the station noted, “it remains to be seen if the general election votes will be counted.”

KARK explains: “At issue is the deadlines for items to appear on the November ballot. Any proposed Arkansas constitutional amendment must be certified by the Secretary of State by August 25. The Supreme Court’s schedule, however, will not allow it to hear the case filed by Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group working to put recreational marijuana on the ballot, until September.”

“What that means is that we’re going to be on the ballot. You’re going to see the Responsible Growth Arkansas measure on your ballot. You’ll be able to cast a vote,” Lancaster said, as quoted by local station 4029 News. “But what’s going to happen in the interim is the Supreme Court will make its decision, and if they agree with us that our ballot title is good, then the votes will count. Otherwise, if the court decides that our ballot title is not sufficient, they’ll just never count those votes.”

“I’m confident that once the court looks at this, they’re going to agree with us that our ballot title is fine,” Lancaster continued. “So I’m, again, confident that … votes are going to count in November.”

Arkansas voters narrowly approved a ballot proposal in 2016 that legalized medical cannabis in the state.

A poll earlier this year found that a slight majority of Arkansas voters––53%–– believe that recreational cannabis should be made legal for adults aged 21 and older, while 32% said that it should only be legal for medical purposes.

Only about 10% of those polled said that cannabis should remain broadly illegal.

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Rejected Cannabis Ballot Initiative in Arkansas Taken to Supreme Court

The ballot initiative submitted by the Responsible Growth Arkansas, a cannabis advocacy group, was recently rejected on Aug. 3 by Board of Election Commissioners for its name and title. On Aug. 4, the group filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court to challenge the decision.

As of July 29, Responsible Growth Arkansas provided at least 90,000 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot (the group provided more than was necessary). However, once the Commissioners reviewed the submission, they claimed that the ballot title did not fully explain the amendment description to voters, and specifically stated that the current language would alter Arkansas’s current THC edible restrictions. The proposal in question, called “An amendment to authorize the possession, personal use, and consumption of cannabis by adults, to authorize the cultivation and sale of cannabis by licensed commercial facilities, and to provide for the regulation of those facilities,” would allow possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for adults over 21 years, and would permit state-licensed dispensaries to sell recreational cannabis, if passed.

Commissioner J. Harmon Smith focused on the THC limits for edibles. “If I’m a voter I might be all for this but I’d like to safeguard that edible limit,” Smith said.

Responsible Growth Arkansas’s attorney, Steven Lancaster, explained that this is an unreasonable request. “The type of detail that the board expected, or demanded in this case, would make our ballot title thousands and thousands of words long,” said Lancaster. “That just simply is not workable for a ballot.”

Following the rejection, the group filed a lawsuit to appeal the decision “to challenge the State Board of Election Commissioners’ thwarting of the will of the people and their right to adopt laws by initiative,” the filing states, according to KNWA. “The Board has attacked that heart through its incorrect rejection of the ballot title.” The filing includes a complaint against Secretary of State and Commissioner Chair John Thurston, who had certified that the initiative did receive enough signatures to be placed on the ballot on Aug. 2.

The filing claims that Thurston is required to certify the popular name and ballot title if they “are not misleading.” “The popular name and ballot title are legally sufficient under this Court’s precedent because they give voters an impartial summary of the Amendment that provides a fair understanding of the issues presented and of the scope and significance of the proposed changes to the law,” the filing continues. “Nothing is omitted that would give voters serious grounds for reflection, and nothing in the popular name and ballot title is misleading in any way. The Board thus erred in denying certification.”

Ultimately, the lawsuit claims that the rejection was unconstitutional, and asks for a preliminary injunction from the Supreme Court to include the ballot initiative, “because it is unlikely that the Court will decide this action before the August 25 deadline for certification for the Amendment to appear on the November 2022 ballot.”

Just before the initiative was rejected by Commissioners, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson expressed his opposition to the recreational cannabis initiative while speaking at the Arkansas Municipal Police Association on Aug. 3. “And the reason I oppose it is simply this: that it will increase the usage of marijuana,” Hutchinson said. “I believe that marijuana is a harmful drug. It is as simple as that. I look back to Alaska. In the 70s, they decriminalized marijuana. Marijuana use went up dramatically, particularly among their teens, and Alaska reversed courses and re-criminalized marijuana.”

Hutchinson claimed that cannabis is “harmful.” “Now, they’re going to sell this as something that’s going to help law enforcement. Fifteen percent of the revenue from the taxes on the sales of marijuana will go to a fund to support law enforcement stipends, 10% of it will go to UAMS in Little Rock, and 5% will go to drug courts,” Hutchinson continued. “And so, once again, they’re selling a harmful drug to the citizens of Arkansas based upon promises that look good. Now, those promises might be a reality, but I think you’ve got to be prepared for this debate.”

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Arkansas Weed Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot

Arkansas state officials announced last week that a proposed ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana has received enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Activists with the group Responsible Growth Arkansas, which is headed by former Arkansas Democratic House minority leader Eddie Armstrong, submitted the petitions to the secretary of state’s office last month, saying at the time they had collected more than twice as many signatures necessary to qualify the proposal for this year’s general election.

Kevin Niehaus, a spokesman for the Arkansas secretary of state’s office, said after signature counters reached 90,000 verified signatures on Thursday night they notified the Responsible Growth Arkansas campaign that the constitutional amendment initiative had been approved for the November ballot. State officials will now concentrate their efforts on verifying signatures for a separate measure to amend Arkansas’ casino gambling statute.

“Because of the time frame to get this done, they stopped at 90,000 verified signatures and now have moved on to the casino petition,” Niehaus said on Friday. “Knowing how many signatures they still had left to go and with it already reaching 90,000 signatures, they felt comfortable saying they made it.”

Arkansas Initiative Would Legalize Recreational Weed

If the initiative is successful at the polls in November, it would legalize cannabis for use by adults 21 and over. The proposal would also allow the state’s existing medical pot growers and dispensaries to apply for adult-use cannabis licenses. Another 40 licenses, to be awarded through a lottery system, would also be issued for recreational marijuana operations. The total number of licenses statewide would be limited to 20 cultivation and 120 dispensary licenses, including those for existing medical marijuana businesses.

In July, Responsible Growth Arkansas submitted petitions containing 192,828 signatures of voters supporting the legalization amendment. Under state law, the group needed 10% of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, or 89,151 signatures, to qualify for this year’s ballot. Officials with the campaign said that support for the initiative effort was strong across the state.

“It was across the entire state, and it really shows a broad level of support geographically,” said Steve Lancaster, counsel for Responsible Growth Arkansas. “To get that many signatures from Arkansans it can’t be all Democrats, or all Republicans, or all Independents. You need a large swath of Arkansans to get that many signatures. The people want to vote on this and make this decision themselves.”

“We are really grateful for the voters who signed our petitions and appreciative to the secretary of state’s office for verifying our signatures,” Lancaster added.

Before the measure is officially approved for the ballot, the proposal’s ballot title and popular name must be approved by the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners. Lancaster said that a meeting of the panel is expected to take place on Wednesday.

Two Initiative Proposals Vying for Voters’ Attention

The effort by Responsible Growth Arkansas is one of two proposals to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. A separate measure from activists to qualify the Arkansas Adult Use and Expungement Marijuana Amendment for the ballot has been pushed back until 2024. Under that proposal, the number of business licenses would be set as a proportion of the state’s population. The proposal also includes provisions for the home cultivation of cannabis, expungement of past pot-related convictions, and assistance for low-income medical cannabis patients.

Patient advocate Melissa Fults, who opposes the Responsible Growth Arkansas measure, hopes that voters will wait until 2024 to legalize recreational pot. She is also skeptical of the number of signatures submitted by the campaign.

“It’s kind of strange,” she said. “We were told by supposedly very reliable sources they only had 79,000 signatures at the start of June. In 30 days they got 120,000 signatures during one of the hottest summers around. I am really concerned about how valid those signatures are.”

But Niehaus noted that the secretary of state’s office uses software that goes through the submitted petitions page by page to verify the number of signatures.

“It verifies if they are a registered voter and makes sure they didn’t accidentally sign a petition two or three times,” Niehuas said.

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Cookies Partners With Good Day Farm To Launch Company’s First Dispensary in Arkansas

One of the most recognizable cannabis brands in the world is teaming up with the largest medical weed producer in the southern United States. Their destination? Chenal, Arkansas. That will be the location of “Berner’s By Good Day Farm,” a new medical cannabis dispensary from Good Day Farm and Cookies.

With more than 4,000 square feet of retail space in Chenal, a suburb of the capital city of Little Rock, the store represents “Cookies’ entry into the Arkansas medical cannabis market and will provide the state’s patients with an expanded assortment of curated cannabis products and exclusive merchandise,” the companies said in an announcement on Tuesday.

The store is slated to have its grand opening on Friday, which will include food, giveaways, and an appearance by Cookies founder and CEO, Berner.

“I never imagined our first store in the South being in Arkansas; I actually never pictured opening a store in the South in general,” Berner said in the announcement on Tuesday. “We are extremely excited about our partnership with Good Day Farm and look forward to providing real menus and a curated customer journey for those in Arkansas, especially those who have never experienced cannabis before. The last time I was in Little Rock, I was on a tour with Snoop and we had a blast. I look forward to setting the tone with Good Day Farm and giving Arkansas a taste of California.”

Only two years after its founding, Good Day Farm bills itself as “the largest licensed medical cannabis producer in the South, supplying the region with an abundant selection of cannabis products in a diverse range of formats, including premium flower, edibles, vapes, concentrates, syringes, tinctures and topical creams.”

Cookies, meanwhile, was founded more than a decade ago and has grown to be one of the best known cannabis companies in the world, with thousands of products and retail locations in four different countries.

Both companies view cannabis as more than just business. Good Day Farm says it “prides itself on being an ambassador of this healing plant in the South, where every day the Company is on a relentless quest to grow, nurture and share really good cannabis,” while Cookies has worked actively “to enrich communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs through advocacy and social equity initiatives.”

The companies said that Berner’s By Good Day Farm “will carry products from both Cookies and Good Day Farm, including exclusive merchandise such as bespoke skateboards and apparel designed with the spirit of Little Rock in mind.”

“As ambassadors of cannabis in the South, it’s an honor to be the first cannabis company to bring the iconic Cookies brand to Arkansas patients,” Laurie Gregory, the chief marketing officer at Good Day Farm, said in the announcement. “Our new dispensary will offer the best of both brands, featuring 30+ new cultivars and all the products Good Day Farm’s customers know and love, from honey, gummies, chocolates and vapes, to our newly launched live resin collection. This store is the first of many planned collaborations between Good Day Farm and Cookies across the South, a partner who shares our commitment to helping good people and providing good cannabis.”  

Arkansas voters approved a measure legalizing medical cannabis in 2016. Sales began three years later.

The state said there were $264.9 million worth of medical cannabis sales last year, bringing the total sales figure to more than $500 million since dispensaries opened in 2019.

And there’s reason to believe than Arkansans would be receptive to more than just medical cannabis.

A poll earlier this year found that 53% of voters in the state believe that weed should be legal for adults aged 21 and older.

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Majority Of Arkansas Voters Back Cannabis Legalization

Should Arkansas voters get the opportunity to decide on cannabis legalization at the ballot later this year, a new poll suggests the proposal just might have enough support to pass.

The latest edition of the Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll found that 53.5 percent of registered voters there believe that cannabis should be legal for adults aged 21 and older. Thirty-two percent said that cannabis should only be legal for medicinal purposes, while only 10.5 percent said that it should be broadly illegal for any reason.

Dr. Jay Barth, an emeritus professor of politics at Hendrix College who helped organize the survey, said that over “our time of polling, perhaps no issue has shown more movement than have Arkansans’ attitudes on marijuana legalization,” noting that the shift in attitudes dovetails with two separate efforts to legalize medical cannabis in the state.

“After an attempt at legalization of medical marijuana failed at the ballot box in 2012, Arkansas voters narrowly passed a revised proposal in 2016. While it took longer than expected for the marijuana bureaucracy—including certified growers and dispensaries—to be established, Arkansans have become used to the presence of visible, legal marijuana in the state. The question now is whether it is time for the next big step: the legalization of regulated recreational marijuana for adults in the state. Our survey suggests that Arkansas voters may be ready to take that step,” Barth said in his analysis of the poll results.

The findings should be encouraging to a group that is trying to place a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas on the state’s ballot in November. 

Known as Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group launched in the fall under the leadership of Eddie Armstrong, a former Democratic lawmaker in the state.

Armstrong’s campaign joins a separate effort from a group called Arkansas True Grass to also get a legalization proposal on this year’s ballot.

In order for the measures to qualify for the ballot, advocates must gather a minimum of 89,151 signatures of registered voters –– equivalent to 10 percent of the number of ballots submitted in the 2018 election.

After voters approved a measure legalizing medical cannabis in 2016, sales officially began in 2019. A year later, the state had racked up more than $50 million medicinal pot sales.

Barth waded into the crosstabs of the survey, which was released on Tuesday, saying that “while a slight majority of the state’s voters support recreational marijuana, there are variations across key voting groups although there is increasing consensus opposed to criminalization of the drug.”

“Even among Republican voters, the most opposed to legalization at all, eight in ten support either medical marijuana or recreational marijuana. While a plurality of Republicans support stopping at medical marijuana as the policy of the state, very healthy majorities of Democrats (71%) and Independents (64%) support recreational marijuana. This may put Republican statewide candidates in a tough spot as they attempt to appeal to voters outside their party while maintaining their GOP base if the issue is before voters in the fall,” Barth said.

He continued: “Aside from political party, the greatest variation is shown across age groups. While seven in ten voters below 45 years support recreational cannabis and a slight majority of those 45 to 64 support the change, a plurality of the voters above 65 believe that maintaining the current legalization of medical cannabis only is the right place for the state’s policy. Men are also more supportive of recreational cannabis while women are more supportive of medical cannabis.”

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Former Arkansas Lawmaker Launches Cannabis Legalization Campaign

A group headed by a former Arkansas lawmaker has joined the charge to reform cannabis policy in the state by organizing a group to campaign for a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana. Eddie Armstrong, a former Democratic state representative from North Little Rock, is listed as the chair of the organization Responsible Growth Arkansas in a filing with the Arkansas Ethics Commission submitted on October 15.

The text of the proposed constitutional amendment had not yet been filed with the office of the Arkansas Secretary of State as of the beginning of the week. The group’s statement of organization, however, notes that the organization will “advocate for the passage of an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution to allow the regulated sale of adult-use cannabis in the state,” according to media reports. 

In an email to reporters, Armstrong wrote that more details of the proposed constitutional amendment to legalize recreational cannabis will be released in the upcoming weeks.

Armstrong is a former minority leader of the Arkansas State House of Representatives, where he served as a legislator from 2013 to 2019. He is also a founder of Cannabis Capital Corp., a Chicago-based consulting firm serving the medical marijuana industry, according to a 2019 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Medical Marijuana Legalized in 2016

Arkansas voters legalized medical marijuana in 2016 with the passage of Issue 6, a constitutional amendment ballot measure that received 53 percent of the vote. Under the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, patients can receive a doctor’s recommendation to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for the treatment of one or more qualifying medical conditions.

Medical marijuana dispensaries began serving patients in 2019. However, statutory limits on the number of cannabis cultivators and retailers could soon leave patients with an inadequate supply of medicine, says medical marijuana advocate Melissa Fults.

“There can only be a maximum of 40 dispensaries and that is not enough to cover the state of Arkansas,” said Fults. “They kept spouting that it was only going to 30,000 patients. We’re about to hit 80,000.”

Separate Cannabis Legalization Amendment Also Proposed

Responsible Growth Arkansas is not the only organization campaigning to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. Under a separate ballot measure from Arkansas True Grass known as the Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Amendment of 2022, cannabis would be legalized for adults ages 21 and older, including provisions to cultivate up to 12 cannabis plants at home. The measure would also release nonviolent marijuana offenders from incarceration, probation and parole and expunge records of past marijuana convictions. 

The proposed constitutional amendment would also establish a regulatory structure for the production and sale of recreational marijuana. Sales of adult-use cannabis would be subject to an eight percent marijuana excise tax in addition to the state sales tax. Local jurisdictions would also be permitted to levy a five percent tax on recreational marijuana sales.

Jesse Raphael, a spokesperson for Arkansas True Grass, said that the adult-use cannabis measure would also support the state’s medical marijuana program.

“Medicine in Arkansas is very good but very expensive for the patients. We’d like to see that changed with patients also able to grow their own,” Raphael told local media earlier this month.

For either cannabis legalization measure to qualify for the ballot under state law, supporters must collect at least 89,151 signatures of registered voters, a figure equal to 10 percent of the ballots cast for governor in the 2018 general election. Under legislation signed into law this year, canvassers collecting signatures for proposed ballot measures must be residents of Arkansas and may not be paid on a per-signature basis. The deadline for gathering signatures is July 8, 2022.

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Federal Grant Approved to Study Medical Marijuana Impact in Arkansas

A federal grant will help fund a study on the medical cannabis program in Arkansas. 

Thanks to $1.3 million courtesy of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, researchers affiliated with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Arkansas Center for Health Improvement will conduct what is being described as “a first-of-its-kind population health analysis of the medical marijuana program, combining eligible consumers’ cannabis purchase information with insurance claims records and other data sources to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the effects of cannabis on consumers’ medical care.”

The study, titled “Population-Based Analyses of Healthcare Utilization and Outcomes in Users of Medical Marijuana,” will “also examine the impact of COVID-19 on the Arkansas medical marijuana program, including changes in cardholder requests, product purchases, healthcare utilization and adverse events,” according to a press release from the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, which is “a nonpartisan, independent health policy center that serves as a catalyst for improving the health of all Arkansans through evidence-based research, public issue advocacy and collaborative program development.”

“This is an exciting and unique opportunity for not only our state, but also the country, to investigate the effectiveness of cannabis for therapeutic use,” said Dr. Joe Thompson, co-principal investigator on this study, and the president and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement. “While researchers have gathered scientific evidence on the use of cannabis for the alleviation of symptoms such as pain and anxiety, there is little evidence on how the amount, strain, potency and method of use affect a person’s health experience.”

Additionally, the study will also “incorporate six Arkansas-based data sources, including the Arkansas Healthcare Transparency Initiative’s Arkansas All-Payer Claims Database (APCD), Arkansas Department of Health medical marijuana patient registry data, medical marijuana dispensary purchase data, vital records, emergency department records and Arkansas State Police motor vehicle crash data,” with all the data being “de-identified with linkages utilizing the unique capabilities of the Transparency Initiative.”

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement said that by “examining data for Arkansans who have qualified for medicinal use, this research will help inform the potential role of cannabis in medical therapy.”

Voters in Arkansas approved a ballot measure legalizing medical cannabis in 2016. The state’s first dispensaries opened in 2019.

In December, state officials reported that patients in Arkansas had purchased $200.7 million and 30,648 pounds of medical marijuana.

That milestone represented a massive spike since April of last year, when the state reported $63 million and 10,050 pounds worth of medical cannabis sales, in the program’s first 11 months of existence. A month before that, the program passed the $50 million mark.

Arkansas is now one of nearly 40 states to have legalized medical cannabis as a treatment. According to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, as of this month, there are “more than 79,000 active Arkansas medical marijuana ID card holders who have one or more of the 18 approved medical conditions.” 

The state also boasts a little more than 30 licensed dispensaries and a total of five cultivators. 

According to the state’s Department of Health, patients with the following qualifying conditions are eligible for a medical cannabis prescription: cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus/ acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Tourette’s syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe arthritis, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s disease, cachexia or wasting syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, intractable pain or pain that has not responded to ordinary medications, treatment or surgical measures for more than six months, severe nausea, seizures including without limitation those characteristic of epilepsy, severe and persistent muscle spasms including without limitation those characteristic of multiple sclerosis.

Any other medical condition or its treatment approved by the Department of Health is also eligible.

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Most Popular Medical Marijuana Strains in Arkansas

Most often, newsworthy strains are those bred and sold on America’s West Coast — the epicenter of cannabis culture and creation. However, just because strains like GG#4 and Dutch Treat reign supreme on the coast doesn’t mean that the rest of the country is so enamoured with these varieties. Cannabis commerce laws being what they […]

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