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Arkansas Attorney General Approves Revised Medical Marijuana Expansion Initiative



“We are confident that Arkansans will respond positively and ultimately vote for the proposed amendment.”

By Hunter Field, Arkansas Advocate

Arkansas’s cannabis industry and patient advocates can begin collecting signatures to qualify a constitutional amendment for the November ballot that would make medical marijuana more accessible.

Attorney General Tim Griffin (R) late Tuesday approved ballot language for the measure with several revisions.

Supporters have until July 5 to gather 90,704 signatures from registered voters to put the amendment to a statewide vote in the November 5 general election.

Bill Paschall, executive director of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association and a member of Arkansans for Patient Access, the ballot question committee behind the proposal, said patient advocates and people working in the industry are ready to make the case for the amendment.

“We are confident that Arkansans will respond positively and ultimately vote for the proposed amendment because it will reduce barriers to obtaining a medical marijuana card, eliminate the annual renewal hassle and give patients more product choices,” he said.

The proposal would allow patients to grow their own plants at home, expand who qualifies for patient ID cards, remove retail prohibitions on certain smokeable products—like pre-rolled joints—and trigger the legalization of recreational marijuana in Arkansas if the drug is federally legalized among other changes.

The AG’s changes to the ballot title and popular name Arkansans for Patient Access submitted February 5 were mostly minor, technical tweaks. The most impactful change was replacing the term “cannabis” in the name of the title with “medical marijuana.”

The proposed amendment will be known as the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2024.

“Cannabis generally can refer to what is being regulated here— ‘usable marijuana’ or marijuana—or to what is not being regulated here— hemp…,” Griffin wrote. “In my opinion, the phrase ‘medical marijuana’ is a better reflection of your proposed measure. Therefore, I am substituting and certifying a ‘more suitable’ popular name.”

Paschall said the ballot group’s attorneys were concerned about the length of the substitute ballot title certified by the attorney general, but after deliberating, the group has decided to accept the proposal. In past election cycles, opponents of ballot initiative efforts have targeted ballot title length in legal challenges.

The initiative seeks to build on Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution, which Arkansans approved in 2016 to legalize cannabis for medicinal use.

The major changes being proposed are:

  • Allowing patients and designated caregivers over age 21 to grow up to seven mature plants and seven younger marijuana plants.
  • Expanding who can certify patients for medical marijuana cards from only doctors to include physician assistants, nurse practitioners and pharmacists.
  • Permitting providers to qualify patients based on any medical need rather than the state’s current 18 qualifying conditions.
  • Allowing health care providers to conduct patient assessments via telemedicine.
  • Expanding access to out-of-state residents by recognizing patient cards from other states or allowing nonresidents to obtain Arkansas patient cards.
  • Abolishing application fees for patients seeking registry ID cards.
  • Increasing the expiration date for new patient cards from one year to three years.
  • Removing prohibition on the manufacture and sale of paraphernalia that requires the “combustion” of marijuana.

The proposal would also create a recreational cannabis trigger law, permitting adults to possess up to an ounce of cannabis if the federal government removes marijuana from the Schedule of Controlled Substances or if marijuana possession is no longer a federal crime.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently advised the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III substance instead of a Schedule I substance, and rumors have swirled for weeks about a decision on the matter from the White House.

The Arkansas initiative would also amend Article 5 of the Arkansas Constitution to prohibit the General Assembly from making changes to constitutional amendments without a vote of the people.

This story was first published by Arkansas Advocate.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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