The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday in favor of keeping on the November ballot the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, one of two initiatives related to medical marijuana, but the initiative still faces another lawsuit.
The Court ruled in favor of the initiative in a lawsuit brought by Dr. Melanie Conway and Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana, against Secretary of State Mark Martin. Lawsuits by groups trying to remove initiatives from the ballot are filed against the secretary of state.
The petitioners claimed the ballot title is misleading and partisan. But Associate Justice Jo Hart explained in her opinion, “It is not required that the ballot title contain a synopsis of the statute; it is sufficient for the title to be complete enough to convey an intelligible idea of the scope and import of the proposed law. … (A) ballot title need not include every possible consequence or impact of a proposed measure, and it need not cover or anticipate every possible legal argument the proposed measure might evoke.”
Hart wrote that the burden is on the party challenging the ballot title.
Backed by the group Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the act would set up non-profit “cannabis care centers” where patients with about 50 qualifying conditions could obtain medical marijuana. It includes a provision allowing people to grow their own marijuana if they live more than 20 miles from a cannabis care center.
The initiative faces another lawsuit, Kara Benca vs. Mark Martin, whose backers include David Couch, the sponsor of a competing marijuana initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment. Petitioners in that lawsuit argue that sponsors did not collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Arkansans for Compassionate Care’s sponsor, Melissa Fults, said she was “thrilled” with Thursday’s decision but said it didn’t necessarily signal that the Supreme Court will rule in her group’s favor regarding the signatures.
Hart addressed each of the petitioners’ claims in the lawsuit.
• The petitioners argued the ballot title is misleading, saying it falsely states that the act limits the use of marijuana when it doesn’t. Hart said the act does create limits.
• The petitioners said the ballot title falsely states the number of “cannabis care centers” would be limited when the Department of Health can grant additional registration certificates. Hart said the act does create limits and “is complete enough to convey an intelligible idea of the scope and import of the proposed law.”
• The petitioners claimed the title implies that marijuana would be tested for quality when home-grown marijuana does not have to be tested. Hart said the act creates a system for cultivating marijuana by qualifying patients and never suggests that marijuana would be tested.
• The petitioners said the title fails to state that cannabis care centers will sell food and drink containing marijuana. Hart said the ballot title does not have to include every possible consequence of a proposed initiative.
• The petitioners said the ballot title doesn’t explain how the act’s anti-discrimination provision could affect employers, landlords, churches and schools. Hart wrote that the court would not interpret a measure’s merits. Again, she wrote, the ballot title does not have to include every potential consequence and must merely convey an idea of the law’s scope.
• Finally, petitioners said the act uses partisan language by using terminology such as “caregivers” and “suffering.” Hart wrote that the act gives voters a “fair understanding of the issues presented.”