Recreational marijuana use will be on Arkansas’ November election ballot. The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday (Sept. 22) overturned a State Board of Election Commissioners (SBEC) decision to deny certification of the constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana use for adults.
The SBEC on Aug. 3 denied certification of a proposed constitutional amendment – Issue 4 – to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21. The panel cited concerns regarding sufficient background checks for dispensary owners and limits on THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, a chemical found in marijuana. The SBEC review is part of a new process for ballot petitions.
In a 5-2 opinion, the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected the panel’s concerns about ballot sufficiency. Justices Shawn Womack and Barbara Webb dissented. (Link here for a PDF of the opinion.)
“With these standards in mind, we conclude that the ballot title at issue is complete enough to convey an intelligible idea of the scope and import of the proposed amendment,” Associate Justice Robin Wynne wrote in the majority opinion. “Therefore, Respondents and Intervenors have not met their burden of proving that the ballot title is insufficient. The people will decide whether to approve the proposed amendment in November. Accordingly, we grant the petition and order the Secretary of State to certify the proposed amendment for inclusion on the November 8, 2022 general election ballot.”
Responsible Growth Arkansas gathered more than 193,000 signatures, more than twice the 89,151 signatures required to make the ballot. In late July, Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston confirmed the group had the signatures to meet the requirement. Thurston also serves as SBEC chairman.
“We applaud the Court’s decision and thank them for protecting the ballot initiative process here in Arkansas,” said Steve Lancaster, legal counsel for Responsible Growth Arkansas. “The power to adopt laws by initiative lies at the heart of our democratic institutions in Arkansas, and today that power has been respected. Nearly 200,000 Arkansans signed Responsible Growth Arkansas’ petition and now will be allowed to vote on the state’s first adult-use cannabis amendment this November. We thank the Arkansas Supreme Court for their correct and expeditious decision.”
Arkansas Family Council President Jerry Cox said in response to the ruling that voter approval of Issue 4 will be “a recipe for disaster.”
“Issue 4 specifically prohibits the state from requiring criminal background checks for certain marijuana business owners. It legalizes any and all products, chemicals and derivatives made from the cannabis plant. It blocks public officials from zoning marijuana businesses or restricting marijuana use. It says point blank that state and local government cannot place additional taxes on marijuana. The amendment makes marijuana one of the least regulated industries in Arkansas. That is a recipe for disaster,” Cox said in a statement.
If the issue is approved by voters, it would amend the existing law for medical marijuana and allow those who are at least 21 to purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would receive licenses to sell recreational use cannabis at the dispensaries and obtain licenses to establish recreational cannabis dispensaries at another location. Licenses also would be available for additional dispensaries and cannabis cultivation facilities.
According to the proposed amendment, adults could carry up to 1 ounce of cannabis and use and consume it. The law would limit the number of dispensaries and cultivation facilities to 120 and 12, respectively. Of the 120 dispensaries, 40 would be selected by lottery.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 that legalized medical marijuana.
A Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll conducted Sept. 12 showed support for adult use recreational cannabis at 58.5% among Arkansas likely voters, up from 53.5% when the question was polled in February 2022.