Signatures submitted for recreational marijuana measure, Pope County casino repeal

by Marine Glisovic ([email protected]) 1,914 views 

Two ballot titles were turned in Friday (July 8) to the Arkansas Secretary of State’s (SOS) office. If certified, Arkansas voters will vote on two questions, with one related to recreational marijuana, and the other involving a planned casino in Pope County.

The signatures must first be certified by the SOS. It takes 89,151 valid signatures for an item to be approved for the ballot.

Friday morning, the group behind the adult use marijuana proposal, Responsible Growth for Arkansas, submitted more than 190,000 petition signatures and ballot title for certification. According to the filing made with the SOS, former state legislator and former Democratic Party of Arkansas official Eddie Armstrong is listed as the chairman of the group.

The ballot initiative would allow adults to possess up to one ounce of marijuana but would not allow for home grown possession. It would create an additional 12 cultivation licenses. Coupled with the eight for medical marijuana, that would bring the total to 20 cultivation facilities in Arkansas.

It would also create an additional 80 marijuana dispensaries, on top of the 40 medical marijuana dispensaries, bringing the total to 120 in Arkansas. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would receive a license to sell recreational, and they would also receive an additional license to open a new store for recreational sales. The remaining 40 adult use dispensary licenses will be up for grabs via a lottery system.

“There will be a lottery for how those are done. We hope that that will be an easier process than what we went through for medical marijuana,” said Steve Lancaster, the group’s attorney.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and the Medical Marijuana Commission (MMC) would be the regulatory agencies for recreational marijuana.

The taxation portion of the proposal would eliminate taxes on medical marijuana sales and instead create a 10% supplemental tax on recreational, along with local and state sales taxes. Of the supplemental tax revenue collected by the state, 15% would support law enforcement stipends, 10% would go to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences research, and 5% would go to drug courts. The remaining supplemental tax and state tax will be appropriated to the state’s general revenue. A portion will be appropriated by the Arkansas General Assembly to fund state operations, including regulatory agencies, the ABC and MMC.

“The legislature as always the case can add to and supplement, but they can’t be inconsistent with what the amendment says,” Lancaster added.

A February 2022 Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College poll found that 53.5% of eligible Arkansas voters believe marijuana use should be legal for adults over age 21, with 32% saying use should be for medical purposes only.

Another question that could make the ballot with more than 100,000 petition signatures gathered is to remove Pope County as a location for a casino, reducing the state’s four licenses to three.

In 2018, Arkansas voters approved a casino amendment that created four casino licenses. Two casinos that had already been operating prior to 2018 under different state regulations, Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort and Southland Casino Racing, received two of the four licenses. The third was awarded to Jefferson County, and the fourth license was designated for Pope County.

Saracen Casino Resort opened in Jefferson County in October 2020, but Pope County casino plans have been embattled with numerous lawsuits involving multiple groups vying for that one license available. Allegations of political corruption have also been made. A casino has still not opened in Pope County.

The group, Fair Play for Arkansas, which has been fighting against building a casino in Pope County, said too many voters in their county spoke up and do not want other voters in the state to mandate a casino in their backyard.

“Pope County voted against that amendment by highest margin of any county in the state, 60 to 40 against. Now unfortunately Amendment 100 did not provide for any local option or local control or local say from the local community as to whether a casino be placed in Pope County,” said Hans Stiritz with Fair Play for Arkansas.

Stiritz said canvassers will continue gathering signatures in the coming weeks in anticipation of multiple legal challenges.

Following are Constitutional amendments approved by the Arkansas General Assembly that will be on the November general election ballot.

• The Constitutional Amendment and Ballot Initiative Reform Amendment would require a 60% threshold for approval of any constitutional amendment or voter-led initiated act.

• An Amendment to the Arkansas Constitution Concerning Extraordinary Session of the General Assembly would allow the legislature to call itself into special session. Special sessions are now called by the governor.

• The Arkansas Religious Freedom Act seeks to amend the state constitution to prohibit the government from burdening a person’s freedom of religion.

Editor’s note: Marine Glisovic is a senior political reporter for content partner, KATV News.