Casino, marijuana ballot signatures submitted

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 165 views 

Four citizens’ initiatives are likely to join two legislative-referred proposals for consideration on the November ballot.

Friday (July 6) was the deadline to submit petition signatures to Secretary of State Mark Martin (R) in order to qualify for consideration in the general election. Martin’s office will review the signatures to ensure they belong to registered voters from at least 15 different counties, and ballot measure proponents could garner an extra 30 days to collect even more qualified signatures under current law.

The four citizen initiatives include two casino expansion proposals, an increase in the severance tax for road construction and repairs, and a medical marijuana measure.

An initiative to alter the state’s ethics laws fell short of the necessary signatures needed to qualify, but supporters vowed to pursue the effort in the future.

Also, the Arkansas General Assembly referred two potential constitutional changes for voter consideration in the 2011 regular session.

One proposal would impose a temporary half-cent state sales tax to fund a bond program for highway construction and repairs. The tax would sunset, or go away, after the bonds were paid for.

A second legislative proposal would allow local governments to create development or redevelopment district as well as have permissive authority to issue bonds paid for by city and county sales taxes.

Of the four citizens’ initiatives, two deal with casinos, which currently exist in a limited capacity at Hot Springs-based Oaklawn race track and West Memphis-based Southland race track.

One casino proposal, led by professional poker player Nancy Todd of Las Vegas, would alter the state constitution allowing Nancy Todd’s Poker Palace and Entertainment Venues LLC to own and operate casinos in Crittenden, Franklin, Miller and Pulaski counties.

A second casino proposal, steered by Texas businessman Michael Wasserman and his business known as Arkansas Hotels and Entertainment, Inc., would allow for casinos in Boone, Crittenden, Garland, Jefferson, Miller, Pulaski and Sebastian counties.

Both casino proposals require changes to the Arkansas constitution. Two other potential measures alter state statutes.

Sheffield Nelson’s proposal to raise the state’s severance tax to a flat 7% submitted enough signatures by the Friday deadline to be reviewed. The Natural Gas Severance Tax Act would increase the severance tax and use proceeds to pay for road construction and repairs at the state and local levels.

The final proposal, led by a group called Arkansans for Compassionate Care, would legalize medicinal marijuana by allowing for up to 30 nonprofit dispensaries in Arkansas. Local cities and counties could choose to ban them.

Marijuana would only be available to people with a prescription for certain health conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDs, Alzheimer’s disease and several other conditions. The proposal allows for a patient to have up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana without the threat of prosecution.