With just over one week until Election Day, Arkansas activists have released a new set of ads promoting a marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on the ballot.
Responsible Growth Arkansas posted several ads to drum up support as the campaign enters the last stretch, with spots focusing on the tax revenue from cannabis sales, support for law enforcement and debunking narratives from legalization opponents.
One ad features an Arkansas mother with her child, explaining why she supports having a regulated adult-use market for cannabis that includes public safety and youth prevention protections.
“Issue 4 will safely legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older, with protections for kids and teens. And Issue 4 will free up the police to focus on serious crime,” she says. “Take it from a mom. Issue 4 is going to be good for Arkansas.”
Eddie Armstrong, chairman of Responsible Growth Arkansas, said in a press release that the ad “is focused on pushing back on the lies and fear-mongering the out-of-state interests and opponents of Issue 4 are peddling to Arkansans.”
“The message is parents who vote for issue 4 also care about their children’s safety,” Armstrong, a former state House minority leader, said. “Decades-old debunked talking points from the anti-recreational cannabis community will not sway voters.”
Another ad titled “21+ Just Like A Six Pack Of Beer” plays into the idea that responsible adults should have regulated access to cannabis in much the same way that they already do for alcohol.
“You can grab a six-pack for the game, but there are rules,” the narrator says. “You’ve gotta have an ID, you’ve gotta be 21. This election, Issue 4, would let adults 21 and up safely buy cannabis. It’s the same deal was the six-pack sold safely to adults.”
Many of the new ads speak to the benefits of legalization for law enforcement, but one provides a more direct commentary on that aspect of the reform.
It argues that violent crime has increased in Arkansas, but jails are overcrowded, due in part to people who are being arrested over non-violent drug offenses. Legalizing marijuana will allow police to “focus on violent crime and take down violent criminals,” while saving the state “millions by fixing our prison system,” the narrator says.
Other ads from the campaign call attention to the potential job creation and other economic benefits that could come with creating a legal marijuana market in Arkansas. Another features a former Grant County Sheriff and state police officer, Lance Huey, advocating for the policy change.
That latter ad is “intended to show Arkansans the personal impact Issue 4 will have on law enforcement, especially the local level law enforcement,” Armstrong said.
“Lance Huey doesn’t shy away from telling Arkansans how it is. Issue 4 will save our law enforcement time and resources while providing them with new funding,” he said. “Lance Huey wants Arkansans to know firsthand how devoting time to misdemeanor marijuana charges can take time away from responding to the most violent crimes that truly plague our communities.”
The campaign previously released an ad that talked about cannabis tax revenue and featured video of a person in a police uniform, which elicited criticism from the Little Rock Police Department. The city asked that the ad be removed, but the campaign declined to do so, arguing that it did not depict any specific department’s insignia.
It’s a critical time for the campaign, which has recently seen a more concerted push from opponents, including the governor and Republican congressional lawmakers.
Polling is tightening for the legalization initiative in Arkansas, with a survey released on last week finding slim majority support as more Republicans seem to be dropping off amid the opposition campaign.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and John Boozman (R-AR) are among those conservative voices that have become more vocal in urging people to reject the marijuana measure.
While those politicians took an early stance against the proposal, opposition efforts have picked up since the state Supreme Court ruled late last month that votes would be counted for Issue 4 following a legal challenge.
Political organizations like Safe and Secure Communities, Family Council Action Committee and Save Arkansas from Epidemic have been campaigning against the measure and generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions.
Hutchinson, a former Drug Enforcement Administration head, previously suggested it was a given that the measure would end up before voters and urged police to help campaign against it.
Meanwhile, a recent economic analysis found that Arkansas’s marijuana market could see nearly $1 billion in annual cannabis sales and more than $460 million in tax revenue over five years if voters approve the measure.
Here’s what the campaign’s marijuana legalization initiative would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis from licensed retailers.
Home cultivation would not be allowed.
The measure would make a series of changes to the state’s existing medical cannabis program that was approved by voters in 2016, including a repeal of residency requirements to qualify as a patient in the state.
The state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division of the Department of Finance and Administration would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses.
Regulators would need to license existing medical cannabis dispensaries to also serve adult consumers, and also permit them to open another retail location for recreational marijuana sales only. A lottery system would award licenses for 40 additional adult-use retailers.
There are no provisions to expunge or seal past criminal records for marijuana or to provide specific social equity licensing opportunities for people from communities harmed by the war on drugs.
The state could impose up to a 10 percent supplemental tax on recreational cannabis sales, in addition to the existing state and local sales tax.
Tax revenue would be divided up between law enforcement (15 percent), the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (10 percent) and the state drug court program (five percent). The remaining revenue would go to the state general fund.
People who own less than five percent of a marijuana businesses would no longer be subject to background checks.
The legislature could not repeal or amend the state’s medical marijuana statutes without voter approval.
Local governments could hold elections to prohibit adult-use retailers in their jurisdiction if voters approve the decision.
Individuals could now own stake in more than 18 dispensaries.
There would be advertising and packaging restrictions, including a requirement that marijuana products must be sold in tamper-resistant packages.
Dispensaries would be able to cultivate and store up to 100 seedings, instead of 50 as prescribed under the current medical cannabis law.
Responsible Growth Arkansas is just one of several campaigns that have pursued cannabis reform through the ballot this year, though backers of competing initiatives have since acknowledged they wouldn’t be able to collect enough signatures to qualify this year.
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Supporters of the separate campaigns, Arkansas True Grass and Arkansans for Marijuana Reform, have raised concerns with the provisions of the Responsible Growth Arkansas initiative, suggesting it would favor big businesses in the existing medical cannabis industry. Some have said they may look to 2024 to try again with their own approaches.
Stephen Lancaster, a spokesperson for Responsible Growth Arkansas, previously told Marijuana Moment that the campaign hopes that won’t be necessary. His campaign feels that the constitutional amendment provides a sound infrastructure for reform that prioritizes regulations—and the plan is to push for further reforms in the legislature if voters approve legalization at the polls. That would include efforts to promote expungements, which isn’t addressed by the initiative.