Issue 4 supporters, opponents make last push for arguments

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,289 views 

Opponents of Issue 4, which would legalize adult use cannabis for those over 21, made a final plea to Arkansas voters Monday (Nov. 7) at a state capitol press conference that featured legislators, business and religious leaders, and the state’s Surgeon General, Dr. Greg Bledsoe.

The coalition featured speakers including U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, Senate President Pro Tempore-elect Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, and State Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville. Other representatives included the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, Family Council Action Committee, Arkansas Faith & Ethics, the Arkansas General Contractors, Arkansas Trucking Association and the Republican Party of Arkansas.

Issue 4 will be decided by Arkansas voters on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

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. Implementation would begin with the first legal sales of adult-use cannabis by March 7, 2023, with the additional dispensary and cultivator licenses to be issued by July 5 and November 8, respectively. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 that legalized medical marijuana.

Bledsoe said one of his primary concerns is that the recreational marijuana amendment loosens regulation of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels, which affect the potency of cannabis.

“If it’s not limited legislatively through the amendment, then you’re going to see a creep of THC levels, even if there’s a regulatory effort to keep it down. So once the cat’s out of the bag, it’s going to continue to creep because that’s what we’ve seen in other states,” he said. “I talked to my colleagues in Colorado, for instance, and they’ve been pulling things off the shelf, especially the synthetic products that have 80, 90% THC concentration in them. And I think there’ll be a very strong effort to get those things in Arkansas and pressure put on the regulatory agencies if this passes.”

Bledsoe also warned that legalizing marijuana would make it more accessible to children even though the legal age would be set at 21.

“You have to go by what the practical realities are, and the practical reality is that everywhere there’s been recreational marijuana passed, there’s been an upsurge of kids using it. You can see that in the data, but you can hear it anecdotally from people who live in these states,” he said.

“I’ve got friends that live in Colorado. I’ve got one friend in particular who is a surgeon in Colorado, and he says that his kids in school don’t know a single person who isn’t using it, and they go to good schools. So he said, ‘It’s just the pervasive narrative is this is no big deal.’ And then when you open recreational marijuana, even though it might specifically say that kids under the age of 21 shouldn’t have it, they get it,” Bledsoe added.

Several religious and political leaders at Mondays press conference said they believed allowing recreational marijuana would be detrimental to kids, families and communities, while business leaders reiterated their opposition primarily based on the impact to the workplace and road safety.

Robert McLarty, campaign director for Responsible Growth Arkansas, the ballot question committee leading the Issue 4 campaign, countered that several arguments used against marijuana legalization during this campaign have been around since the 1980’s.

“What we heard today was a group of individuals who don’t represent the 200,000 people that signed the petition. The sky’s not going to fall. It didn’t fall in the top three manufacturing states that have already passed medical and recreational marijuana. We feel that the best way to approach this issue is to regulate it, make sure these products are safe, and make sure they’re taxed, and make sure the state’s going to benefit from the sale of legal cannabis,” he said.

“Those funds will go back to our dedicated funding sources, which is going to include the police. It’s going to include cancer research and drug courts, which are desperately needing money. So we feel that this is a good vote. It’s going to produce jobs, it’s going to produce revenue, and it’s going to do it in a safe manner that Arkansans can feel good about. It’s going to be regulated by the ABC [Alcohol Beverage Control Board], just like alcohol. So we feel that this is a good measure. It’s going to provide a lot of benefits to the state. And again, the 1980’s scare tactic that ‘the world’s going to end if this passes’ is just an old playbook that doesn’t really prove to be true,” McLarty added.

Issue 4 supporters have picked up a couple of famous endorsements in the last week. Rapper Snoop Dogg and legendary Arkansas professional golfer John Daly both tweeted their support. Two district attorneys in western Tennessee also encouraged support for Issue 4 this week. The two prosecutors said local resources would be better spent prioritizing violent crimes.

Responsible Growth Arkansas has touted an economic impact study they commissioned that predicted nearly $1 billion of additional growth in the state’s economy by 2027 if Issue 4 passes.

A Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll in mid-October showed the race has tightened considerably in recent weeks. 50.5% supported Issue 4, while 43% opposed. The remaining 6.5% were undecided. In September, a TB&P-Hendrix Poll showed support at 58.5%, while 29% were opposed and 12.5% were undecided.