The ballot initiative submitted by the Responsible Growth Arkansas, a cannabis advocacy group, was recently rejected on Aug. 3 by Board of Election Commissioners for its name and title. On Aug. 4, the group filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court to challenge the decision.
As of July 29, Responsible Growth Arkansas provided at least 90,000 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot (the group provided more than was necessary). However, once the Commissioners reviewed the submission, they claimed that the ballot title did not fully explain the amendment description to voters, and specifically stated that the current language would alter Arkansas’s current THC edible restrictions. The proposal in question, called “An amendment to authorize the possession, personal use, and consumption of cannabis by adults, to authorize the cultivation and sale of cannabis by licensed commercial facilities, and to provide for the regulation of those facilities,” would allow possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for adults over 21 years, and would permit state-licensed dispensaries to sell recreational cannabis, if passed.
Commissioner J. Harmon Smith focused on the THC limits for edibles. “If I’m a voter I might be all for this but I’d like to safeguard that edible limit,” Smith said.
Responsible Growth Arkansas’s attorney, Steven Lancaster, explained that this is an unreasonable request. “The type of detail that the board expected, or demanded in this case, would make our ballot title thousands and thousands of words long,” said Lancaster. “That just simply is not workable for a ballot.”
Following the rejection, the group filed a lawsuit to appeal the decision “to challenge the State Board of Election Commissioners’ thwarting of the will of the people and their right to adopt laws by initiative,” the filing states, according to KNWA. “The Board has attacked that heart through its incorrect rejection of the ballot title.” The filing includes a complaint against Secretary of State and Commissioner Chair John Thurston, who had certified that the initiative did receive enough signatures to be placed on the ballot on Aug. 2.
The filing claims that Thurston is required to certify the popular name and ballot title if they “are not misleading.” “The popular name and ballot title are legally sufficient under this Court’s precedent because they give voters an impartial summary of the Amendment that provides a fair understanding of the issues presented and of the scope and significance of the proposed changes to the law,” the filing continues. “Nothing is omitted that would give voters serious grounds for reflection, and nothing in the popular name and ballot title is misleading in any way. The Board thus erred in denying certification.”
Ultimately, the lawsuit claims that the rejection was unconstitutional, and asks for a preliminary injunction from the Supreme Court to include the ballot initiative, “because it is unlikely that the Court will decide this action before the August 25 deadline for certification for the Amendment to appear on the November 2022 ballot.”
Just before the initiative was rejected by Commissioners, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson expressed his opposition to the recreational cannabis initiative while speaking at the Arkansas Municipal Police Association on Aug. 3. “And the reason I oppose it is simply this: that it will increase the usage of marijuana,” Hutchinson said. “I believe that marijuana is a harmful drug. It is as simple as that. I look back to Alaska. In the 70s, they decriminalized marijuana. Marijuana use went up dramatically, particularly among their teens, and Alaska reversed courses and re-criminalized marijuana.”
Hutchinson claimed that cannabis is “harmful.” “Now, they’re going to sell this as something that’s going to help law enforcement. Fifteen percent of the revenue from the taxes on the sales of marijuana will go to a fund to support law enforcement stipends, 10% of it will go to UAMS in Little Rock, and 5% will go to drug courts,” Hutchinson continued. “And so, once again, they’re selling a harmful drug to the citizens of Arkansas based upon promises that look good. Now, those promises might be a reality, but I think you’ve got to be prepared for this debate.”