Arkansas state officials announced last week that a proposed ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana has received enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Activists with the group Responsible Growth Arkansas, which is headed by former Arkansas Democratic House minority leader Eddie Armstrong, submitted the petitions to the secretary of state’s office last month, saying at the time they had collected more than twice as many signatures necessary to qualify the proposal for this year’s general election.
Kevin Niehaus, a spokesman for the Arkansas secretary of state’s office, said after signature counters reached 90,000 verified signatures on Thursday night they notified the Responsible Growth Arkansas campaign that the constitutional amendment initiative had been approved for the November ballot. State officials will now concentrate their efforts on verifying signatures for a separate measure to amend Arkansas’ casino gambling statute.
“Because of the time frame to get this done, they stopped at 90,000 verified signatures and now have moved on to the casino petition,” Niehaus said on Friday. “Knowing how many signatures they still had left to go and with it already reaching 90,000 signatures, they felt comfortable saying they made it.”
Arkansas Initiative Would Legalize Recreational Weed
If the initiative is successful at the polls in November, it would legalize cannabis for use by adults 21 and over. The proposal would also allow the state’s existing medical pot growers and dispensaries to apply for adult-use cannabis licenses. Another 40 licenses, to be awarded through a lottery system, would also be issued for recreational marijuana operations. The total number of licenses statewide would be limited to 20 cultivation and 120 dispensary licenses, including those for existing medical marijuana businesses.
In July, Responsible Growth Arkansas submitted petitions containing 192,828 signatures of voters supporting the legalization amendment. Under state law, the group needed 10% of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, or 89,151 signatures, to qualify for this year’s ballot. Officials with the campaign said that support for the initiative effort was strong across the state.
“It was across the entire state, and it really shows a broad level of support geographically,” said Steve Lancaster, counsel for Responsible Growth Arkansas. “To get that many signatures from Arkansans it can’t be all Democrats, or all Republicans, or all Independents. You need a large swath of Arkansans to get that many signatures. The people want to vote on this and make this decision themselves.”
“We are really grateful for the voters who signed our petitions and appreciative to the secretary of state’s office for verifying our signatures,” Lancaster added.
Before the measure is officially approved for the ballot, the proposal’s ballot title and popular name must be approved by the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners. Lancaster said that a meeting of the panel is expected to take place on Wednesday.
Two Initiative Proposals Vying for Voters’ Attention
The effort by Responsible Growth Arkansas is one of two proposals to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. A separate measure from activists to qualify the Arkansas Adult Use and Expungement Marijuana Amendment for the ballot has been pushed back until 2024. Under that proposal, the number of business licenses would be set as a proportion of the state’s population. The proposal also includes provisions for the home cultivation of cannabis, expungement of past pot-related convictions, and assistance for low-income medical cannabis patients.
Patient advocate Melissa Fults, who opposes the Responsible Growth Arkansas measure, hopes that voters will wait until 2024 to legalize recreational pot. She is also skeptical of the number of signatures submitted by the campaign.
“It’s kind of strange,” she said. “We were told by supposedly very reliable sources they only had 79,000 signatures at the start of June. In 30 days they got 120,000 signatures during one of the hottest summers around. I am really concerned about how valid those signatures are.”
But Niehaus noted that the secretary of state’s office uses software that goes through the submitted petitions page by page to verify the number of signatures.
“It verifies if they are a registered voter and makes sure they didn’t accidentally sign a petition two or three times,” Niehuas said.
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.