Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Defeated By Voters
Arkansas voters rejected a marijuana legalization ballot initiative on Tuesday.
The measure, backed by the Responsible Growth Arkansas campaign, would have created a regulated cannabis market for adults 21 and older.
Polling generally leaned in the campaign’s favor in the run-up to the election, but the most recent survey painted a different picture, with the measure falling significantly behind as conservative elected officials ramped up an opposition effort.
Here’s what the campaign’s marijuana legalization initiative would have accomplished:
Adults 21 and older would have been able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis from licensed retailers.
Home cultivation would not have been allowed.
The measure would have made 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 have been responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses.
Regulators would have needed to license existing medical cannabis dispensaries to also serve adult consumers, and additionally permit them to open another retail location for recreational marijuana sales only. A lottery system would have awarded licenses for 40 additional adult-use retailers.
There were 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 have imposed up to a 10 percent supplemental tax on recreational cannabis sales, in addition to the existing state and local sales tax.
Tax revenue would have been 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 have gone 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 would not have been able to repeal or amend the state’s medical marijuana statutes without voter approval.
Local governments could have held elections to prohibit adult-use retailers in their jurisdiction if voters approved the decision.
Individuals would not have been allowed to own stake in more than 18 dispensaries.
There would have been advertising and packaging restrictions, including a requirement that marijuana products must be sold in tamper-resistant packages.
Dispensaries would have been able to cultivate and store up to 100 seedings, instead of 50 as prescribed under the current medical cannabis law.
Polling gradually tightened for the measure, and then abruptly shifted with most voters opposed to the proposal in the latest survey released last week. That came as more Republican voters seemed 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 had been vocal in urging people to reject the marijuana measure.
While those politicians took an early stance against the proposal, opposition efforts picked up since the state Supreme Court ruled in September that votes would be counted for Issue 4 following a legal challenge.
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Political organizations like Safe and Secure Communities, Family Council Action Committee and Save Arkansas from Epidemic had campaigned against the measure and generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions.
Hutchinson, a former U.S. 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 would have seen nearly $1 billion in annual cannabis sales and more than $460 million in tax revenue over five years if voters had approved the measure.
Responsible Growth Arkansas—led by former Arkansas House Minority Leader Eddie Armstrong (D)—posted several ads to drum up support as the campaign entered the last stretch, with spots focusing on the tax revenue from cannabis sales, support for law enforcement and debunking narratives from legalization opponents.
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.
Responsible Growth Arkansas is just one of several campaigns that had pursued cannabis reform through the ballot this year, though backers of competing initiatives ultimately acknowledged they wouldn’t be able to collect enough signatures to qualify this year.
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 have favored big businesses in the existing medical cannabis industry. Some have said they might 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 hoped that won’t be necessary. His campaign feels that the constitutional amendment provides a sound infrastructure for reform that prioritizes regulations—and the plan was to push for further reforms in the legislature. That would include efforts to promote expungements, which wasn’t addressed by the initiative.
Some activists who don’t agree with certain provisions of the current measure decided to vote for it anyway out of fear that a separate amendment that’s also on the ballot would raise the threshold to pass future initiatives to a 60 percent supermajority—potentially impeding legalization’s chances in any future election.
Marijuana and psychedelics initiatives are also on the ballot in Colorado, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota on Tuesday.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.