Arkansas Supreme Court Signs off on Legalization Ballot Measure

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled late Thursday that voters in the state will have the opportunity to decide on a recreational marijuana proposal that will appear on this November’s ballot.

The decision ends a drawn-out dispute over the measure, which would legalize pot for adults aged 21 and older while also establishing a state-regulated marijuana market.

State officials, including Arkansas’ secretary of state, challenged the validity of the measure, which would be an amendment to the state’s constitution.

Activists submitted more than enough valid signatures for the proposal to qualify for the ballot, but the state Board of Election Commissioners rejected the measure, contending that the ballot title did not adequately explain the amendment to voters.

The group behind the proposal, Responsible Growth Arkansas, filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court, which made a preliminary ruling last month that the amendment should appear on the ballot, but held off on deciding whether the votes will actually count.

On Thursday, the court issued its final decision, ruling that the amendment is sufficient and rejecting the Board of Election Commissioners’ authority to deny the proposal in the first place.

As the Associated Press reported, the justices “rejected the board’s arguments for denying the measure” and “also struck down the 2019 law that empowered the board to certify ballot measures.”

According to local news station WREG, the majority opinion said that “the ballot title at issue is complete enough to convey an intelligible idea of the scope and import of the proposed amendment,” and that “Respondents and Intervenors have not met their burden of proving that the ballot title is insufficient.”

“The people will decide whether to approve the proposed amendment in November,” the opinion said.

Responsible Growth Arkansas celebrated the decision.

“We’re extremely grateful to the Supreme Court that they agreed with us and felt like it was a complete validation of everything we’ve done,” said the group’s attorney, Steve Lancaster, as quoted by the Associated Press. “We’re excited and moving on to November.”

The majority also said that the Board of Election Commissioners “has no discretion to determine whether to certify a ballot title,” according to WREG, and that “the Board had no authority to decline to certify the ballot title to the Secretary of State, and its action is without legal effect.”

“I am confident that Arkansans can read this ballot title and understand that a vote for the initiative is a vote in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana and that their decision could have a wide-ranging impact on current medical-marijuana laws and regulations and children. It is for the people—not this court—to exercise the right to amend the constitution, and our court must continue to preserve this first power of the people of Arkansas by not supplanting their decisions with ours,” wrote Justice Rhonda Wood in a concurring opinion, as quoted by WREG.

Another justice, Shawn Womack, “concurred in part with the majority’s opinion but also dissented,” according to WREG, saying that the “ballot title fails to sufficiently advise voters of the magnitude of the change and gives the marijuana industry greater leeway to operate with limited oversight in these areas.”

But Womack also said he’s “confident that Arkansans can read this ballot title and understand that a vote for the initiative is a vote in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana and that their decision could have a wide-ranging impact on current medical-marijuana laws and regulations and children.”

“It is for the people—not this court—to exercise the right to amend the constitution, and our court must continue to preserve this first power of the people of Arkansas by not supplanting their decisions with ours,” Womack said, as quoted by WREG.

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Court Rules Oklahoma Won’t Vote On Legalizing Pot in November

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that voters will get to decide on a ballot proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, but not until after this year’s general election in November. The state’s highest court rejected an appeal from the group Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws that would have required the State Election Board to include State Question 820 on the ballot for this year’s vote.

“There is no way to mandate the inclusion of SQ820 on the November 2022 general election ballot,” Justice Douglas Combs wrote in the majority opinion. “SQ820 will be voted upon by the people of Oklahoma, albeit either at the next general election following November 8, 2022, or at a special election set by the Governor or the Legislature.”

In July, Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws submitted petitions with signatures from more than 164,000 voters in favor of the legalization initiative, exceeding the number required to qualify for the ballot by more than 70,000 signatures. But the secretary of state’s office, which was using a new system to verify signatures, took far longer to certify the signatures than in previous elections, leaving too little time to include the question on this fall’s ballot, according to election officials.

Jeffrey Cartmell, counselor to the secretary of state, said the service provided by the third-party vendor to check signatures was possibly the first “true signature verification process” ever used by the state.  

“This new process differs significantly from the historical practice of merely counting the number of individuals who signed the petition without regard for their voter registration status,” Cartmell wrote in a statement to News 9.

The Supreme Court also issued a decision on legal challenges to State Question 820 on Wednesday, ruling against two petitions that sought changes in the measure’s ballot title and summary. The justices also denied requests for rehearings on two challenges to the signature gathering process that the court had already rejected.

“It is disappointing that a few people with their own political interests were able to use the process to prevent voters from voting on this in November,” campaign director Michelle Tilley said in a statement. “However, we cannot lose sight of how far we have come. This is a big deal. Now the petition phase is finished, and Oklahomans will be voting to legalize recreational marijuana here, and we can soon realize all the benefits it will bring to our state.”

State Question 820 Would Legalize Rec Weed in Oklahoma

If the proposal is eventually passed, State Question 820 would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older. The ballot initiative would also task the state’s existing Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with drafting and implementing rules to regulate the new recreational cannabis industry. The measure also includes provisions to allow those with past convictions for some marijuana offenses to petition the courts to reverse their convictions and have their criminal record expunged.

State Question 820 would set a 15% tax on sales of recreational marijuana, more than double the 7% tax rate levied on sales of medical cannabis. Taxes generated by the sale of recreational pot would be divided among the state’s General Revenue Fund, local governments that allow licensed adult-use cannabis businesses to operate in their jurisdiction, the state court system, school districts, and drug treatment programs.

With the Supreme Court’s decision, State Question 820 will not be presented to the electorate until the 2024 general election, unless a special election is called by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, who has expressed opposition to the proposal. But he has also said that the nation’s patchwork policy of cannabis legalization and prohibition has become problematic.

“Do I wish that the feds would pass legalized marijuana? Yes. I think that would solve a lot of issues from all these different states,” Stitt recently told The Associated Press. “But in our state, just trying to protect our state right now, I don’t think it would be good for Oklahoma.”

Arshad Lasi, CEO of Oklahoma licensed medical marijuana company The Nirvana Group, said that news of the Supreme Court’s decision “is disappointing because the industry and consumers here alike were optimistic that recreational marijuana would make it onto the ballot and be voted into law.”

“This setback may make things especially difficult for smaller businesses, who will likely continue to face challenges navigating this saturated market but growing market,” Lasi said in an email to High Times. “We are optimistic that another opportunity for adult-use marijuana may be possible via a special election in the coming months. However, if that doesn’t prevail we may not have another chance for two years.”

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Activists Accuse North Dakota of Misleading Voters About Cannabis Legalization Initiative

Activists supporting a North Dakota voter initiative to legalize marijuana are crying foul about a fiscal summary that will be included with the ballot measure, saying that is “incomplete” and “misleading” for voters. Voters will decide on the initiative from New Approach North Dakota, which would legalize pot for adults, in this November’s general election following an announcement last month from state officials that the measure had qualified for the ballot.

When voters get their ballots this fall, they will see a one-sentence fiscal summary that estimates the costs of implementing the initiative and revenue generated by the measure, should it be approved. Over the next five years, the summary estimates that costs will exceed revenue by more than $1.8 million.

“The estimated fiscal impact of this measure beginning in 2023 through the 2025-2027 Biennium is Revenue of $3,145,000 and Expenses of $4,985,000,” reads the fiscal summary.

But the estimate fails to include any revenue from taxes on cannabis sales, despite the taxes that would be generated by the proposal. If the ballot measure succeeds, cannabis sales would be taxed at the state sales tax rate of 5%, and local taxes of up to 3% could also be added. Lawmakers would also likely add an excise tax on cannabis that could be much higher.

Dave Owen, the chairman of New Approach North Dakota, said the fiscal note written for the ballot is “obviously incomplete” and “intentionally misleading” for voters, according to a report from the news website Inforum.

Tax Commissioner Brian Kroshus said unknown variables including the cost of cannabis products and the eventual volume of sales at cannabis retailers prevented his office from estimating how much tax revenue would be generated if the ballot measure succeeds and marijuana is legalized, according to media reports.

Other Estimates Project Up to $10 Million in Annual Weed Taxes

But others have already made estimates of the amount of tax revenue that would be generated by legal weed. Raymond March, an economics professor at North Dakota State University, projects that the state would receive about $6 million in tax revenue each year.

Dustin Gawrylow, a self-described fiscally conservative government watchdog and a member of the marijuana legalization measure’s sponsoring committee, said that revenue from legalization would far exceed the costs of implementing legal marijuana and failing to include estimated tax revenue in the fiscal summary is “not logical.” He estimates that state coffers would receive $8 million to $10 million each year if the ballot measure succeeds in November, based on legal marijuana sales in Montana this year, adjusted for the lower population in North Dakota.

When asked why the tax commissioner’s office could not develop an estimate of state revenue based on data from other states, Kroshus said that “Each (state) has their own unique tax and regulatory structure specific to them.”

The fiscal summary to be placed at the bottom of ballots is a condensed version of a three-page estimate developed with input from several state agencies. Jason Wahl, the director of the North Dakota Division of Medical Marijuana, presented the complete estimate to a panel of legislative leaders on Monday. Wahl said that the majority of the $3.1 million in projected state income would come from application and licensing fees levied on cannabis producers and retailers.

The complete summary also notes that “additional revenue is anticipated to be collected on the sale of cannabis products,” but the tax commissioner’s office said it was unable to estimate the amount of taxes that would be collected.

The Department of Transportation estimates it would incur much of the nearly $5 million dollars in estimated costs to hire an additional full-time employee, fund training, purchase drug screening devices and launch an anti-impaired driving campaign.

The medical marijuana division would also see expenditures to hire four additional employees and govern the recreational marijuana program. Wahl estimated that licensing and application fees would cover the costs incurred by his agency. The complete fiscal note adds that the Highway Patrol, the attorney general’s office and the state’s 53 counties could also face additional unknown costs.

The fiscal note is added to ballot measures to give voters an estimate of the costs and revenue the state would face if an initiative is approved. But critics including Owen, a political consultant, say the estimates are written by state agencies to influence the election.

“It is a well-known fact that when certain agencies don’t want something (to pass), they put an absurd fiscal note on it to try to kill it,” Owen said.

Ballot Measure Legalizes Cannabis for Adults

If passed by voters in the November general election, the ballot measure would legalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and small amounts of marijuana concentrates by adults 21 and older. The initiative also establishes a framework to regulate commercial cannabis production and sales, which would be administered by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services or another agency designated by lawmakers.

Regulators would be given until October 1, 2023 to draft regulations governing security for marijuana facilities, advertising and labeling, packaging and testing standards for cannabis products. The initiative caps the industry to seven production facilities and 18 cannabis retailers, with limits on the number of licenses held by any one entity.

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Arkansas Secretary of State Calls Legalization Ballot Measure Insufficient

Arkansas’ secretary of state said on Tuesday that a proposed measure to legalize recreational cannabis in the state is not up to snuff in order to qualify for this year’s ballot.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Secretary of State John Thurston said “Tuesday in a declaration to the Arkansas Supreme Court the proposed constitutional amendment is insufficient because the State Board of Election Commissioners did not certify the ballot title and popular name.”

A spokesman for Thurston told the Democrat Gazette “he expects the declaration to be filed Tuesday with the state Supreme Court,” and that “the secretary of state’s office believes the declaration is a formality that the state Supreme Court is going through and doesn’t believe the declaration will be the final decision on the recreational marijuana issue.”

On Monday, the state Supreme Court “handed down a per curiam opinion that stated the court had issued a writ of mandamus to the secretary of state’s office to decide the sufficiency of the proposed initiative petition,” the Democrat Gazette reported.

The declaration from the secretary of state represents the latest development in what has become a protracted battle over the legalization proposal.

Last month, the Arkansas Supreme Court said that the measure will indeed appear on this fall’s ballot in the state––but the votes may not actually be counted.

The Fort Smith Times Record reports that the high court’s decision on whether or not the votes will count “could be decided as soon as Thursday.”

The advocacy group behind the proposal, Responsible Growth Arkansas, filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court last month after the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners rejected its name and title.

In July, the group submitted almost thousands of signatures to the Board of Election Commissioners, which rejected the proposal, saying that the title did not adequately explain what the measure would do if it were passed.

The Associated Press reported that 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 type of detail that the board expected, or demanded in this case, would make our ballot title thousands and thousands of words long,” Responsible Growth Arkansas attorney Steven Lancaster said last month. “That just simply is not workable for a ballot.”

“You’re going to see the Responsible Growth Arkansas measure on your ballot. You’ll be able to cast a vote,” Lancaster said last month, 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 added. “So I’m, again, confident that … votes are going to count in November.”

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported this week that “Lancaster said he remains confident the court will rule to keep the recreational marijuana issue on the ballot.”

Should the votes count in November, there is good reason to think that legalization is coming to Arkansas.

A poll conducted earlier this year found that a majority of registered voters in the state––53.5%––think that weed should be legal for adults aged 21 and older, while 32% said cannabis should only be legal for medical reasons and 10.5% said that it should be broadly illegal for any reason.

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Legalization Opponents Sue To Block Initiative From Missouri Ballot

A coalition of groups opposed to drug reform efforts has filed a lawsuit to block an initiative to legalize recreational pot from the Missouri ballot, arguing the measure did not meet constitutional requirements and failed to receive enough petition signatures. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft certified the initiative, which would legalize marijuana for adults and permit commercial cannabis activity, earlier this month.

John Payne, a spokesman for Legal Missouri, the group sponsoring the legalization effort, said that it is the only initiative that had the public support necessary to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

“This lawsuit lacks merit and in less than three months Missouri will be the 20th state to regulate, tax and legalize cannabis,” said Payne.

The lawsuit was filed on August 19 on behalf of Joy Sweeney, a resident of Jefferson City, Missouri, who serves as the deputy director of training, technical assistance and community outreach for Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, a coalition of community groups that aims to prevent substance use and abuse. The legal action is also supported by Protect Our Kids PAC, a Colorado-based super PAC started earlier this year to oppose drug policy reform efforts.

“Not only does the language deceive voters about the harms of legalization, it is in violation of state law and the Missouri Constitution,” Luke Niforatos, the CEO of Protect Our Kids PAC, said in a statement. “We hope the courts will rule on this issue expeditiously and spare Missouri’s children from targeting by Big Marijuana.”

JoDonn Chaney, a spokesman for the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, said the office had not been officially served with the suit and that he could not comment on the specifics of the legal action. But he added that the signature totals and certification process “speak for themselves.”

“The individuals responsible for submitting this (initiative petition) met the constitutional requirements as required by statute, therefore Secretary Ashcroft certified Amendment 3 to the ballot,” Chaney said. “The secretary followed the law and fulfilled his statutory duty and stands behind his certification.”

To qualify for the ballot in Missouri, initiative campaigns must collect enough signatures from registered voters to equal at least 8% of the votes cast in the 2020 gubernatorial election in a minimum of six of the state’s eight congressional districts. Those backing the lawsuit note that unofficial tabulations of the petition signatures conducted by local election officials last month showed the campaign was short by 2,275 signatures. But after backers of the petition requested a review of the total by the Secretary of State’s Office, officials determined that the campaign had collected enough signatures and Ashcroft certified the petition for the November ballot on August 9.

The legal action claims that Ashcroft “certified and counted signatures that were marked through by the local election authorities and, absent this action, the marijuana initiative petition would not have had a sufficient number of valid signatures in six of eight congressional districts.” The suit notes that signature counts and voter rolls requested under Missouri’s open records law have not been provided to the plaintiff.

The lawsuit also alleges that the marijuana legalization initiative fails to comply with requirements that ballot measures cover only one subject. Under the Missouri Constitution, initiative petitions that amend the state constitution, “shall not contain more than one amended and revised article of this constitution, or one new article which shall not contain more than one subject and matters properly connected therewith.”

The court filing for the suit claims that the initiative would not only legalize recreational marijuana but would also criminalize cannabis possession beyond a statutory limit, create a process for licensing marijuana cultivators, set tax guidelines, create a new position to oversee licensing “on a preferential basis,” and establish a system to expunge past marijuana convictions.

Under Missouri law, the lawsuit will be advanced to the court docket so it can be heard and decided in an expedited manner.

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Nebraska Medical Pot Initiative Fails To Qualify For Ballot

A bid to get a medical cannabis proposal on the Nebraska ballot this year officially came up short on Monday.

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana said that the Secretary of State Bob Evnen “announced that our effort to relieve the pain of so many suffering Nebraskans did not meet the minimum qualifications of verified signatures to end up on the November ballot.”

“To say we are devastated would be an understatement,” the campaign said in an announcement on Facebook. “Suffering Nebraskans should never be faced with having to move themselves or their families out of the state they call home just to have access to health care.”

The group turned in more than 184,000 signatures to the Nebraska secretary of state’s office last month, less than an hour before the deadline for submission.

In fact, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana pursued what it described as “two complementary initiatives” for the state ballot: the Patient Protection Act would have enshrined protections for patients with “serious health conditions and their caregivers from arrest for the use of medical cannabis as recommended by a health care provider,” while the Medical Cannabis Regulation Act would have established “the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Commission to regulate private businesses that provide medical cannabis to qualified patients.”

Neither will be on the Cornhusker State’s ballot this November.

The Associated Press reports: “Each proposal needed nearly 87,000 signatures — or a total of 7% of registered voters — as well as 5% of registered voters in at least 38 of Nebraska’s 93 counties to put the proposals to a vote of the people. The Patient Protections initiative collected 77,843 valid signatures, and the 5% threshold was met in only 26 counties, Evnen said. That proposal would have legalized the use of up to 5 ounces of marijuana for qualifying medical reasons. The Cannabis Regulation initiative collected 77,119 signatures, and the 5% threshold was met in 27 counties. It would have legalized the possession, manufacture, distribution, delivery, and dispensing of marijuana for medical reasons and would have established a commission to regulate a state medical cannabis program.”

The news on Monday marks an expected conclusion to what has been a turbulent campaign for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana.

In March, the group said it was scrambling for donations after two individuals who were expected to be major contributors were unable to support the campaign due to extenuating circumstances.

“I’d say devastating is an understatement,” Crista Eggers, one of the group’s spokespeople and leaders, said at the time. “We’re pleading with you to help.”

“If what we needed was grit, and drive, and determination, we have that,” Eggers added. “Our campaign would be done and over if that’s what we needed. But unfortunately, the one thing our campaign doesn’t have – and has to have – is money.”

Eggers was involved in the campaign for personal reasons: her son, Colton, has epilepsy but can’t receive medical cannabis treatment in their home state.

“We’ve received so much encouragement from individuals all across the state, who support the many patients like our son Colton, who desperately need access to this medicine. No matter what your political background is, we should all agree that criminalizing a medicine that has the potential to alleviate suffering, is both cruel and inhumane,” Eggers said during the campaign launch last year. “The current policy doesn’t reflect our family values here in Nebraska, and we’re going to change that. We need everyone who believes in compassion for suffering individuals like my son to be part of this movement and help us win in 2022.”

Despite the fundraising setback, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana managed to round up thousands of signatures and submit its petitions just before the deadline last month, which the group hailed as a testament to the organizers’ resilience.

But that feeling of triumph was short-lived. Now, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana says it’s setting its sights on 2024.

“When we receive the results from the Secretary of State’s office, we will analyze the data and then we will immediately get to work on qualifying for the 2024 ballot,” the group said on Monday.

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Oklahoma Legislation Appears To Fall Short of Ballot

A recreational legalization initiative in Oklahoma may be in jeopardy of not making it to the state ballot this November, despite organizers gathering more than enough signatures to qualify.

The leaders of the “Yes On 820 Campaign” said on Monday that the Oklahoma secretary of state confirmed that the group had submitted more than 117,000 valid signatures –– well above the roughly 95,000 signature threshold for a question to be placed on the state ballot.

But according to the Oklahoma Watch, the group “faces several obstacles in the last part of its journey to the ballot as another challenge period will last at least 10 business days and the state Election Board needs time to print ballots for overseas voters.”

 “The certification by the secretary of state now goes to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which must determine if the signature verification meets the sufficiency requirements. That then starts a 10-day process for anyone to challenge the signature verification,” the Oklahoma Watch reported.

The “Yes on 820 Campaign,” which submitted more than 164,000 signatures to the Oklahoma secretary of state’s office last month, celebrated the validation of the signatures on Monday, but expressed concern that the question will not be in front of the state’s voters come November.

Complicating matters, according to the campaign, is the fact that the Oklahoma secretary of state’s office is using a private vendor in the ballot certification process for the first time.

“The last petition Oklahomans voted on took 17 days to count 313,000 signatures,” Michelle Tilley, the campaign director for “Yes on 820,” said in a statement, as quoted by the Oklahoma Watch. “In contrast, we submitted half that amount and it has taken three times as long. This delay means the election board may not receive the green light to print the ballot in time for voters to vote on it in November.”  

The Oklahoma Watch has more on the bureaucratic minutiae: “The governor has the sole authority to call the election for ballot initiatives once the challenge period expires. For all practical purposes, that means the process must be completed by Friday, the state election board told Gov. Kevin Stitt in a letter dated June 22. It said the statutory deadline is Aug. 29 and is in place because the Election Board has to have time to print and mail absentee ballots to overseas voters like those in the military. In a filing with the Supreme Court, the Yes on 820 campaign said the state’s new signature verification system, run by Western Petition Systems, took longer than anyone anticipated.”

State Question 820 would “safely regulate, and tax recreational marijuana for adults 21+ in Oklahoma,” which the campaign asserts “will generate revenue for important priorities for Oklahomans, including schools, health care, and local governments.”

Oklahoma is one of several traditional “red states” where voters could have the chance to end the prohibition on pot this November, with legalization proposals already qualifying for the ballot in Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Activists in those states, citing reams of polling, contend that cannabis legalization is veering on a bipartisan consensus in the country, with conservative and liberal voters alike increasingly backing the policy.

After getting word from the secretary of state’s office, the Yes on 820 campaign said Monday that the “overwhelming number of signatures shows that Oklahomans are ready for sensible marijuana laws.”

Tilley and senior campaign adviser Ryan Kiesel sang a similar tune last month, after turning in the signatures to the secretary of state.

“We’re expecting Oklahomans to say yes to this,” Kissel said at the time.

“Oklahomans don’t think that people should be continually punished for something that’s no longer a crime,” he added.

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North Dakota Will Vote on Recreational Weed Legalization in November

State officials in North Dakota announced on Monday that an initiative to legalize cannabis for adults has qualified for the ballot and will appear before voters in the November general election. New Approach North Dakota, the group spearheading the recreational marijuana ballot measure, submitted 26,048 petition signatures in July. On Tuesday, the office of Secretary of State Al Jaeger verified 23,368 signatures as coming from registered voters, far exceeding the 15,582 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.

If passed by voters in this year’s general election, the ballot measure would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and small amounts of cannabis concentrates by adults 21 and older. The initiative also establishes a regulatory framework to govern commercial cannabis production and sales, which would be administered by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services or another agency designated by lawmakers.

Regulators would be given until October 1, 2023 to draft regulations governing cannabis labeling, packaging, testing standards and advertising as well as security for marijuana facilities. The initiative limits the industry to seven production facilities and 18 cannabis retailers, with caps on the number of licenses held by any one entity.

Initiative Modeled After House Bill

Supporters of the initiative effort say the proposal was written largely following recreational cannabis legalization legislation that was passed by the North Dakota House of Representatives but failed to gain the approval of the state Senate.

“There is no public safety benefit from arresting adults for small amounts of marijuana,” Mark Friese, an attorney and former police officer who serves who is the treasurer of New Approach North Dakota, said in a statement. “It is a waste of taxpayer resources and a distraction from serious public safety concerns. Cannabis causes far less harm than alcohol. Many people find therapeutic benefits from it. The government shouldn’t be in the business of punishing adults who use cannabis responsibly.”

The news that the cannabis legalization initiative has qualified for the November election drew praise from activists including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

“North Dakota has long had one of the highest marijuana arrest rates in the nation, despite having among the lowest reported marijuana use of any state,” NORML executive director Erik Altieri said in a statement from the cannabis advocacy group. “Legalization will not only bring justice to thousands of North Dakotans, but it will also provide a new, booming industry that will help local businesses and the countless family farms in the state. We expect that come November, North Dakotans are going to send a loud and clear message that they reject the failed policy of prohibition and that they want to take a new and more sensible approach forward by legalizing and regulating marijuana.”

“This measure will ensure that North Dakotans have safe and regulated access to cannabis products, thereby creating jobs, bolstering the agricultural community, and reprioritizing law enforcement’s priorities away from marijuana arrests to focus on violent crime,” added NORML state policies Manager Jax James.

Brian Vicente, founding partner at the cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, noted that passage of the initiative would likely have political ramifications for the state’s lawmakers and could impact national cannabis reform efforts.

“North Dakota qualifying legalization for the November ballot is a big step towards national legalization,” Vicente wrote in an email to High Times. “Not only will this vote allow patients who don’t qualify under the current medical law to have safe access, but it will also force a robust discussion on adult-use marijuana policy in a traditionally conservative state.”

“Importantly, if this vote passes, the state’s Republican senators will have a decision to make in D.C.— do they support the will of their state’s voters, or do they continue supporting federal laws that criminalize cannabis consumers in their state?” he added. “North Dakota is the sixth state slated to vote on legalization this November, which is sure to make fun election night viewing.”

In 2016, North Dakota voters approved a ballot measure legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis but voted down a measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana.

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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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Local Texas Advocacy Group Collects Signatures for Decriminalization Initiative

Ground Game Texas held a press event on May 25, announcing that the group has collected enough signatures to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. Only 1,000 valid signatures were necessary, but the group collected over 2,400 signatures for submission.

Ground Game Texas was founded in 2021 and seeks to organize and educate Texas communities to fight for issues such as increased minimum wages, Medicaid expansion plans, and cannabis legalization, to name a few. A part of their mission is to consistently inform voters of these issues year-round, and to avoid taking “off-years.”

Executive Director and Co-founder of Ground Game Texas, Julie Oliver, released a statement about the initiative, which is called the Killeen Freedom Act of 2022. “In a quickly growing and thriving community like Killeen, there’s no excuse for the continued over-policing and incarceration of community members for marijuana use,” Oliver said. “On the heels of voters approving our similar initiative in Austin last week, we’re proud to give Killeen voters the same opportunity to end enforcement of marijuana offenses–which disproportionally hurts diverse communities like Killeen.” If passed, this particular initiative would decriminalize cannabis in Killeen, a central Texas town located north of Austin, which no longer allows police to issue class A or class B misdemeanors for cannabis possession.

On May 9, the organization shared that voters in Austin passed Proposition A (also called the Austin Freedom Act) with 85.80% “yes” vote, which decriminalizes cannabis and also prohibits no-knock warrants. “I want to stress that this *would not have happened* if volunteers working in an ‘off year’ hadn’t grabbed clipboards and hit the pavement to gather the 20,000 signatures it took to put this up for a vote,” Oliver stated about the organization’s constant advocacy, according to the Austin Chronicle.

Ground Game Texas is also targeting other local cities of Harker Heights, San Marcos, and Denton for cannabis decriminalization measures as well, with a total of 10 ballot campaigns that the organization is working on.

A new Texas poll, as reported by The Dallas Morning News in May, states that 83% of Texans want to legalize medical cannabis and 60% want to legalize adult-use consumption. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has previously announced his support of reducing penalties for possession, but not legalization. “Marijuana is now a Class C misdemeanor in the state of Texas and so one thing that that I believe in—and I believe the state legislature believes in—and that is prison and jail is a place for dangerous criminals who may harm others, and small possession of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with,” Abbott said in January.

Last June, Abbott signed House Bill 1535 to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, which went into effect in September 2021. Now, patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or all types of cancer can seek relief through the Texas Compassionate Use Program. The program already included qualifying conditions such as intractable epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS, terminal cancer, autism, and seizure disorders.

However, medical cannabis advocates shared their disappointment in the state’s limitations. Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, expressed the need for more support. “While we are glad to see the Compassionate Use Program being expanded, it’s disappointing to see Texas inching forward while other states, like Alabama, for example, are moving forward with real medical cannabis programs,” said Fazio. “It’s doing so little, and we wish [lawmakers] were doing more.”

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