Arkansas activists say that they’ve collected more than double the required signatures to place a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot, with plans to submit the petitions to the state on the turn-in deadline on Friday.
Responsible Growth Arkansas is seeking to place the issue on the ballot as a constitutional amendment that would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of cannabis. Home cultivation would not be permitted, and the measure does not contain provisions to expunge past records or provide for social equity opportunities in the industry that are favored by reform advocates.
A spokesperson for the campaign, Steve Lancaster, told KFSM-TV that advocates plan to “turn in 200,000 signatures of Arkansans.” That would far exceeded the 89,151 valid signatures that are required to qualify for the ballot.
The secretary of state’s office will be responsible for verifying the signatures once they’re submitted. In the event that the campaign falls short but turns in at least 75 percent of the valid signatures, it would be given an additional 30 days to make up the difference.
Responsible Growth Arkansas is just one of several campaigns that have pursued cannabis reform through the ballot this year, though competing initiatives have since acknowledged they won’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.
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.
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The competing initiatives from True Grass and Arkansans for Marijuana Reform would have similarly legalized recreational cannabis in the state, but they also contained home grow provisions to let adults cultivate limited numbers of plants for personal use.
“The thing that really sets us apart from the others is we understand that this is a product that needs to be regulated by the state,” Responsible Growth Arkansas’s Lancaster argued.
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.
Here’s the state of play for other drug policy reform ballot measures in 2022:
Oklahoma activists said on Tuesday that they’ve submitted what they believe to be more than enough signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative 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.
In May, South Dakota officials certified that activists turned in a sufficient number of signatures earlier this month to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the November ballot.
Advocates in Missouri have turned in more than double the amount of signatures needed to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the ballot.
Nebraska advocates plan to turn in signatures for a pair of medical cannabis legalization initiatives on Thursday, which is the submission deadline. The campaign has faced several challenges along the way, including the loss of critical funding after a key donor passed.
North Dakota activists recently cleared a procedural hurdle to start collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state.
Colorado activists announced last week that they have submitted what they believe to be more than enough signatures to place a measure on the state’s ballot that would legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin “healing centers” where people can use the substance for therapeutic purposes. A competing psychedelic reform campaign is still gathering signatures for a competing, more simplified measure.
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 last month 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 that last month 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.
Meanwhile, there are various local reforms that activists want to see voters decide on this November—including local marijuana decriminalization ordinances in Ohio, West Virginia and Texas.
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