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Arkansas Voters Approve Medical Marijuana, Other Constitutional Amendments


Arkansas has joined the growing list of states where medical marijuana is legal despite warnings from Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other opponents who said use of the drug will lead to increased regulatory costs and healthcare woes.

In elections across the U.S., California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada are voting on measures that would make the drug legal to use for recreational purposes in small amounts for people over 21. Voters in Arkansas, along with Florida, Montana, and North Dakota, were voting on proposals to legalize medical marijuana.

With 31 of 75 counties reporting – and many of those in the state’s most populated counties – the measure received 408,022 votes (52.1%) for and 373,958 (47.8%) against.

Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe, who actively campaigned against medical marijuana, said his goal is to now come up with a responsible implementation plan.

“I’m disappointed. I think it’s going to be another hurdle for our state to overcome, but I think the goal now is not to focus on the problems but try to find solutions,” he said. “So my goal is to sit down with everyone who’s involved, and to come up with a way of implementing this that’s responsible, that does the best that we can do to protect patients, protect patients’ families, give them the information they need to make educated decisions regarding the use of marijuana, and to do this in a way that makes Arkansas proud, and that makes it a model for the rest of the states.”

He wants clear and appropriate regulations so people can make informed decisions. He wants packages, especially of edibles, to be appropriate and accurate, and he wants the contents to be free of contaminants.

“I’m not going to try to go back against the will of the people. I think that’s pointless,” he added.

Following are the percentage votes on the ballot issues with 31 of 75 counties reporting.

For: 70.4%
Against: 29.2%

This amendment asks voters to approve multiple changes to the Arkansas Constitution. If approved by voters, this amendment would: Allow four-year terms for elected county officials; Prevent certain elected county officials from also being appointed or elected to a civil office; Allow unopposed candidates to be elected without their name appearing on the ballot; and Define what “infamous crime” means in regards to who is not allowed to hold an elected position.

For: 72.8%
Against: 27.1%

The amendment would change the constitution to allow the governor to remain in power when traveling outside the state of Arkansas.

For: 64.8%
Against: 35.1%

This amendment asks voters to approve multiple changes to the Arkansas Constitution with the stated intent to encourage job creation, job expansion and economic development. It proposes modifications to Article 12 and Amendments 62 and 82. Key changes sought by the amendment include removing a cap on bonds that now prevent bonded debt from exceeding 5% of state general revenues, allowing a county, city, town or other municipal corporation to obtain or provide money for other entities to support economic development projects or services, and allowing cities, towns, school districts and counties to form compacts for economic development projects.

For: 52.1%
Against: 47.8%

This amendment would allow medical marijuana in the state and includes several components. Key provisions include: Establish a system for growing, acquiring and distributing marijuana for medical purposes; Protect qualified patients, caregivers, growers, providers and doctors from arrest, prosecution, penalty or discrimination under Arkansas law. It does not offer protection from federal law; Direct the state Department of Health to establish rules related to medical access of marijuana and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission to establish rules related to growing and selling marijuana for medical purposes; and apply state and local taxes to the sale of medical marijuana and require that state tax revenues be used to offset the state’s cost of administering the law and be distributed to various state workforce and education programs.

That list was eventually whittled down to the three proposals that the Arkansas Legislature can refer to voters every two years for general elections. And just a few weeks ago, there were still four citizen-led initiated acts that were also on the ballot, but three have been tossed in the eleventh hour by the Arkansas Supreme Court because of procedural and legal problems.

The Arkansas high court tossed Issue 4 and 5 from the ballot on Oct. 13 with less than one month before the November general election. Issue 4, a proposed constitutional amendment to set caps of at least $250,000 on tort reform lawsuits, was removed from the Nov. 8 lineup because the ballot title left critical elements undefined, justices said.

In tossing Issue 5 off the ballot, the high court cited a fatal flaw that the proposal did not clearly inform voters that the amendment violated federal law prohibiting sports gambling in Arkansas. That proposal would have created a constitutional amendment authorizing the building of one casino each in Washington County, Miller County and Boone County.

The casinos would be required to pay the state 18% of their net and would pay 1.5% to the city where they are located and 0.5% to their local counties. An Arkansas Gaming Commission would regulate.

Two weeks before the election, the Arkansas high court on Oct. 27 also disqualified the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act – Issue 7 – from the November ballot, with the majority opinion saying the act sponsors “failed to meet the constitutional requirements” related to the signature gathering process.

Prior to that, voters were set today to decide on two medical marijuana proposals. The opinion on the defeated medical marijuana proposal also cited several other areas in which organizers allowed signatures that the majority of the court believed should have been tossed out.

State election officials said voters in some counties will still likely see Issues 4,5 and 7 on their local ballots, but those votes will not be counted. Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane said several precincts in central Arkansas will still have the three rejected initiated acts on their ballot, but voters should ignore them.

Heather Yates, assistant professor of political science at the University of Central Arkansas, believes all the proposals on the ballot except the medical marijuana amendment have a good chance of being approved by the more than 1.3 million voters that are expected to cast their votes in this general election.

“Now that ballot issues 4, 5, and (now) 7 were decertified by the Arkansas Supreme Court, ballot Issues 1, 2, and 3 will likely pass as there has been little expressed public opposition pass with the exception of ballot issue 6 – the medical marijuana amendment,” Yates said. “There is still popular support for keeping medical cannabis illegal in Arkansas. However, proponents of legalizing cannabis have unified in a final push to support the cannabis amendment.”

Yates also said that Issue 3 will likely be the one proposal that will have the closest margin for being approved.

“The only ballot issue that might run into some resistance is ballot issue 3, the removal of caps on state issued bonds,” she said. “However if passed, the political resistance may emerge in the next State Assembly session.”

Wesley Brown is the Business Editor for Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached by email at wesbrocomm@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BrownOnBusiness.