Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative In Jeopardy, New Poll Shows Days Before Election
A marijuana legalization ballot initiative in Arkansas is trailing significantly behind, according to a new poll released just days ahead of Election Day.
The survey from the University of Arkansas found that 41 percent of adults in the state support the cannabis reform measure, while 59 percent are opposed.
Early polling gave the Responsible Growth Arkansas campaign the advantage, but surveys have revealed a gradual tightening as the election approached and opponents became more vocal. Now this latest poll shows the initiative being handily defeated.
Here’s the exact language of the latest survey question presented to respondents:
“Issue 4 would change the constitution to legalize the possession and use of marijuana by adults, allowing for its cultivation and sale by licensed commercial facilities. Given this description, do you favor or oppose this measure?”
Democrats were most likely to back the marijuana measure, albeit by a small margin, with 50 percent in support and 46 percent against. Only 30 percent of Republicans are in favor, compared to 65 percent against. Independents are in opposition, 57 percent to 40 percent.
When it comes to race and ethnicity, 63 percent of Hispanic voters support the measure. That’s compared to 48 percent of Black voters and 37 percent of whites.
As in past surveys, support was strongest among young people. Whereas 71 percent of those aged 18-24 are on board, just 40 percent of respondents aged 55-64 and 32 percent of those over 65 are in support, for example.
Robert McLarty, campaign director for Responsible Growth Arkansas, pushed back on topline numbers showing the measure so far behind.
“Over the past several months, we’ve witnessed several surveys regarding Issue 4,” he said. “Recently, Talk Business and Politics released a survey taken during the same period, showing the opposite results.”
“Therefore, the only result that will matter is the result that Arkansas voters will decide on Election Day. Today’s news is an excellent reminder to those who want to legalize cannabis to get out and vote for Issue 4. I strongly encourage Arkansans to seriously consider what Issue 4 can do for our state,” he said. “Over the next five days, for those who have not voted, want to legalize cannabis safely, fund the police, fund cancer research, create jobs, and create millions of dollars in revenue for our state, now is the time to vote for Issue 4. Now is your time to make history.”
Janine Parry, director of the Arkansas Poll and professor of political science at the University of Arkansa, didn’t directly weigh in on the cannabis question, but she did say in a press release about the overall poll that “economic and political uncertainty are crowding out other concerns this year.”
The survey involved interviews with 801 Arkansas adults from October 13-31, with a +/-3.5 percentage point margin of error.
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.
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For advocates, a main problem in Arkansas has been the active opposition, particularly from high-profile conservative officials like Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and John Boozman (R-AR).
While those politicians took an early stance against the proposal, opposition efforts have picked up since the state Supreme Court ruled in September 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 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 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.
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 have 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 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.
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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.