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Two groups gathering signatures for Arkansas recreational marijuana proposals

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npr.org
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NPR News
Signatures are being collected by two groups hoping to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas.

Two groups are hoping to place proposals on the November ballot in Arkansas that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. This comes six years after voters approved the use of marijuana for people in the state with certain medical conditions.

Backers of the separate proposed state constitutional amendments are working to gather enough valid petition signatures before a July deadline.

The proposal by Responsible Growth Arkansas would expand the number of grower licenses in the state to 20 and dispensary licenses to 40. Campaign Chairman Eddie Armstrong says it would enable more craft products to be grown.

“It will allow for an opportunity for us to see more nuances in the natural state for lower yield, higher quality, better products that will hopefully be in the market for customers to consume,” he said in an interview.

To obtain a cultivation or dispensary license, people would need to go through an application process, then be selected through a lottery system. Armstrong says this process was chosen to avoid problems and inequities experienced during the granting of licenses for medicinal facilities.

“We saw in our state the last time this type of process happened, and in many other states that I worked in across the country, there is a lot of red tape and sometimes some unfortunate mishandling of how scores are issued,” Armstrong said.

One key difference between the proposed amendments is the one by Responsible Growth Arkansas would not allow people to grow their own marijuana. Armstrong said it was designed, “so our law enforcement officers aren’t worried about it getting in the hands of children or you growing it in your backyards and then we have to worry about that law enforcement issue.”

Both groups say legalizing marijuana for recreational use will reduce a burden on police. Briana Boling, a spokesperson for the group True Grass Arkansas, says she has heard positive comments from law enforcement.

“I’ve had officers tell me that they think it will put a curb on the opioid epidemic,” she said in an interview. “It will take off of their workload.”

True Grass Arkansas’ amendment would allow home growth and impose no limits on the number of licensed businesses. Class A licenses would cost $250 per year and those people could grow and possess an unlimited amount of seeds and plants. Class B licenses would be $500 and allow the selling of anything consisting of cannabis.

“We’re for the people by the people.” Boling said, “We’re about freedom and a fair market.”

She says Arkansas True Grass is about halfway toward collecting the needed 89,000 signatures. Armstrong said Responsible Growth Arkansas needs another 50,000 to 70,000 signatures.

Arkansas’ first medical marijuana dispensary opened in May 2019. As of last September, the state Department of Finance and Administration reported sales had reached $400 million with more than 59,000 pounds sold. About 80,000 people had qualified by that time for medical marijuana cards.