A group headed by a former Arkansas lawmaker has joined the charge to reform cannabis policy in the state by organizing a group to campaign for a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana. Eddie Armstrong, a former Democratic state representative from North Little Rock, is listed as the chair of the organization Responsible Growth Arkansas in a filing with the Arkansas Ethics Commission submitted on October 15.
The text of the proposed constitutional amendment had not yet been filed with the office of the Arkansas Secretary of State as of the beginning of the week. The group’s statement of organization, however, notes that the organization will “advocate for the passage of an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution to allow the regulated sale of adult-use cannabis in the state,” according to media reports.
In an email to reporters, Armstrong wrote that more details of the proposed constitutional amendment to legalize recreational cannabis will be released in the upcoming weeks.
Armstrong is a former minority leader of the Arkansas State House of Representatives, where he served as a legislator from 2013 to 2019. He is also a founder of Cannabis Capital Corp., a Chicago-based consulting firm serving the medical marijuana industry, according to a 2019 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Medical Marijuana Legalized in 2016
Arkansas voters legalized medical marijuana in 2016 with the passage of Issue 6, a constitutional amendment ballot measure that received 53 percent of the vote. Under the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, patients can receive a doctor’s recommendation to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for the treatment of one or more qualifying medical conditions.
Medical marijuana dispensaries began serving patients in 2019. However, statutory limits on the number of cannabis cultivators and retailers could soon leave patients with an inadequate supply of medicine, says medical marijuana advocate Melissa Fults.
“There can only be a maximum of 40 dispensaries and that is not enough to cover the state of Arkansas,” said Fults. “They kept spouting that it was only going to 30,000 patients. We’re about to hit 80,000.”
Separate Cannabis Legalization Amendment Also Proposed
Responsible Growth Arkansas is not the only organization campaigning to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. Under a separate ballot measure from Arkansas True Grass known as the Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Amendment of 2022, cannabis would be legalized for adults ages 21 and older, including provisions to cultivate up to 12 cannabis plants at home. The measure would also release nonviolent marijuana offenders from incarceration, probation and parole and expunge records of past marijuana convictions.
The proposed constitutional amendment would also establish a regulatory structure for the production and sale of recreational marijuana. Sales of adult-use cannabis would be subject to an eight percent marijuana excise tax in addition to the state sales tax. Local jurisdictions would also be permitted to levy a five percent tax on recreational marijuana sales.
Jesse Raphael, a spokesperson for Arkansas True Grass, said that the adult-use cannabis measure would also support the state’s medical marijuana program.
“Medicine in Arkansas is very good but very expensive for the patients. We’d like to see that changed with patients also able to grow their own,” Raphael told local media earlier this month.
For either cannabis legalization measure to qualify for the ballot under state law, supporters must collect at least 89,151 signatures of registered voters, a figure equal to 10 percent of the ballots cast for governor in the 2018 general election. Under legislation signed into law this year, canvassers collecting signatures for proposed ballot measures must be residents of Arkansas and may not be paid on a per-signature basis. The deadline for gathering signatures is July 8, 2022.
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.