The State Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday (Aug. 3) denied certification of a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21.
The SBEC review is part of a new process for ballot petitions. The panel cited concerns regarding sufficient background checks for dispensary owners and limits on THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, a chemical found in marijuana.
Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group supporting the ballot measure, turned in more than 193,000 signatures for adult recreational marijuana use, more than twice what was needed to qualify. Secretary of State John Thurston signed off last week on the measure as having sufficiently met the signature threshold to qualify for the November ballot.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 that legalized medical marijuana. This year’s recreational cannabis proposal would replace that and allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. It also outlines limitations on cultivators and dispensaries and provides funding for medical research, law enforcement, and drug courts.
With today’s rejection, the process now moves to the courts. Responsible Growth Arkansas can appeal the election panel’s decision, which will result in review from the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Steve Lancaster, an attorney with Wright Lindsey Jennings who serves as spokesperson for Responsible Growth Arkansas, said an appeal is forthcoming.
“Today, despite zero public opposition or testimony against it, the State Board of Election Commissioners refused to allow Arkansans to vote on a proposed amendment for adult use cannabis in November, even though a record number of voters signed a petition in support of placing it on the ballot,” he said.
“We believe that once our arguments are heard before a court of law, we will successfully place this issue before the voters of Arkansas on November 8th. The amendment is sound and we feel confident that will be the ruling of the courts. With the support of almost 200,000 Arkansans already, public polls showing strong support for likely passage, and the incredible grassroots momentum we see growing around this issue every day, we believe this needs to be put before the voters of Arkansas. We are fully committed to arguing the merits of the amendment and ensuring that happens,” Lancaster added.
CASINO REMOVAL INITIATIVE REJECTED
The State Board of Election Commissioners also declined to certify the popular name and ballot title submitted by Fair Play for Arkansas, a group wanting to remove Pope County from an amendment that allows a casino to be placed there.
The panel said the language did not disclose that a license has been issued and was therefore misleading.
It is expected that a legal appeal will come from this rejection, although Fair Play for Arkansas has not received approval from the Secretary of State’s office that its signatures meet the legal threshold.
Dustin McDaniel, former Arkansas Attorney General and legal counsel for Cherokee Nation Businesses, which holds the license for the Pope Co. casino, said his group plans to intervene if an appeal occurs.
“We appreciate the thoughtful and diligent service of the Commissioners and agree with their decision to reject the popular name and ballot title submitted by Fair Play for Arkansas. We assume Fair Play will petition the Supreme Court to review this decision and we will intervene to assist the Attorney General’s office in defending it,” McDaniel said.
Fair Play Arkansas has not issued a statement on the rejection.
Talk Business & Politics will update this story later tonight.