Arkansas officials have verified that activists turned in enough valid signatures to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the state’s November ballot.
Responsible Growth Arkansas submitted about 193,000 signatures—more than double what’s required to qualify the constitutional amendment—earlier this month. And on Friday, the secretary of state’s office said that it has processed enough petitions to confirm that there are sufficient signatures for ballot placement.
In order to officially make the ballot, however, the state Board of Election Commissioners must still approve the popular name and ballot title of the measure. The board is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to make that decision, but activists are confident that they have crafted language that will be satisfactory.
“We’re extremely excited and grateful to the secretary of state’s office for the time that they put in counting and verifying the signatures,” Steve Lancaster, a spokesperson for the campaign, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Friday.
“I think it’s a testament to the support that this measure has across the state that we were able to turn in the signatures that we did, and it’s really gratifying that we’ve crossed this hurdle,” he said. “We recognize there are more [hurdles] that are out there, but we’re ready to face them and get to November to hopefully let the people decide.”
There’s a possibility that someone could challenge the state’s signature verification, which would require a secondary review. At this point, officials have validated about 90,000 signatures for the initiative, so there are still tens of thousands of additional petitions that they could theoretically verify in the event of a challenge.
A more realistic possibility, Lancaster said, is that there could be a challenge against the ballot title and popular name of the measure. If the board contests the language as misleading, it would likely mean that activists will find themselves defending the initiative in the Arkansas Supreme Court.
“Our strong preference and belief is that the right thing would be that the board approve our ballot title and that there not be a challenge,” he said. “But realistically, we do see that it’s likely that we’ll end, up one way or the other, in front of the Arkansas Supreme Court. Again, we feel confident in ballot title and popular name.”
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 of 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.
A former Arkansas Democratic House minority leader, Eddie Armstrong, is behind the Responsible Growth Arkansas constitutional amendment, which he filed in January.
The group 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.
Lancaster 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.
Meanwhile, a poll released in February found that 54 percent of Arkansans favor full adult-use legalization, compared to 32 percent who said it should be legal for medical use only and just around 11 percent who said it should be outright illegal.
Arkansas is also not the only state where voters may see drug policy reform measures on their November ballots:
Colorado voters will have the chance to decide on a historic ballot initiative this November to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin “healing centers” where people can use the substance for therapeutic purposes.
In May, South Dakota officials certified that activists turned in a sufficient number of signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the November ballot.
Maryland lawmakers passed legislation this year, which the governor allowed to go into effect without his signature, that will put the issue of cannabis legalization before voters this November.
North Dakota activists turned in what they believe to be enough signatures to place a marijuana legalization initiative before voters.
Oklahoma activists also said they’ve submitted what they believe to be more than enough signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot.
Nebraska advocates recently submitted signatures for a pair of medical cannabis legalization initiatives. The campaign has faced several challenges along the way, including the loss of critical funding after a key donor passed away and a court battle of the state’s geographic requirements for ballot petitions.
A campaign to put cannabis legalization on the Missouri ballot may be in jeopardy, as early reporting shows that activists are coming up short on the required signatures in key districts.
An initiative to legalize marijuana will not appear on Ohio’s November ballot, the campaign behind the measure announced in May. But activists did reach a settlement with state officials in a legal challenge that will give them a chance to hit the ground running in 2023.
Michigan activists announced in June that they will no longer be pursuing a statewide psychedelics legalization ballot initiative for this year’s election and will instead focus on qualifying the measure to go before voters in 2024.
The campaign behind an effort to decriminalize drugs and expand treatment and recovery services in Washington State said in June that it has halted its push to qualify an initiative for November’s ballot.
While Wyoming activists said earlier this year that they made solid progress in collecting signatures for a pair of ballot initiatives to decriminalize marijuana possession and legalize medical cannabis, they didn’t get enough to make the 2022 ballot deadline and will be aiming for 2024 while simultaneously pushing the legislature to advance reform even sooner.
In March, California activists announced that they came up short on collecting enough signatures to qualify a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for the state’s November ballot, though they aren’t giving up on a future election cycle bid.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.