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Arkansas business leaders join Gov. Hutchinson in opposing recreational marijuana

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at a press conference Monday against a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana.
Michael Hibblen
Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at a press conference Monday against a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana.

Arkansas business leaders joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson Monday in calling for voters to oppose Issue 4, the general election ballot measure that would legalize adult use cannabis. At a news conference at the headquarters of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce in Little Rock, the industry representatives said legalizing recreational marijuana would compound problems for workforce recruitment and safety.

Issue 4 supporters said the arguments were no different than when medical marijuana was proposed in 2016, and that Arkansas businesses have not suffered since its passage.

Leaders from the trucking, construction and agricultural industries joined Hutchinson in condemning the proposal.

“It’s a nightmare for the industry, for the people we have to work on the highways and buildings around the state,” said Haskell Dickinson, former chairman of the Associated General Contractors of Arkansas. “We will have a challenge determining who can come to work… we don’t know how to handle it and no one else does either.”

“Issue 4 threatens the fair growth of business, by enriching marijuana monopolies and hamstringing industries like trucking that have long-served as the foundation for our state’s economy,” said Shannon Newton, President of the Arkansas Trucking Association.

Citing a shortage of nearly 78,000 truck drivers nationwide and as many as 2,400 in Arkansas, Newton added that permitting recreational marijuana would make it even harder to recruit drivers to an industry that already has a limited pool of candidates.

“The potential negative impact on our industry’s ability to recruit and retain the woefully-needed professional drivers to continue to deliver the standard of living that we all enjoy, should be obvious,” she added.

Newton cited statistics from Nevada and Washington that showed 162% and 190% increases in workers testing positive for marijuana in recent years since legalization occurred in those states.

Randy Zook, president and CEO of the State Chamber of Commerce, emphasized that workforce issues would be severely challenged, and he noted that legalization would drive workers compensation insurance higher for businesses. Arkansas has some of the lowest workers compensation rates in the nation and has had decades of stability on this front.

“This measure would compound this problem making it nearly impossible to have a safe workplace,” Zook said. “The question to ask is: would we really be better off as a state if we pass this?”

Robert McLarty, campaign director for Issue 4, said the workforce arguments presented at the news conference have been made before and haven’t borne out in reality.

“With all due respect to the Governor, Fact: 3 of the 5 top manufacturing states in the country have adult-use cannabis or medical cannabis or both,” he said.

“Like an old scare tactic of the Halloween sequel, today’s press conference repeats yesterday’s claims that the sky will fall. It didn’t fall in 2016, and it won’t fall once Arkansas voters pass Issue 4,” McLarty added.

The Arkansas Farm Bureau also joined Hutchinson at the governor’s press conference. Stanley Hill, VP for Public Affairs & Government Relations, said that opposing marijuana legalization has been a long-standing Farm Bureau policy that originated from its thousands of members.

“The membership of Farm Bureau determines the policy that we will champion or try to defeat,” he said. “Our leadership decided we should make an all-out commitment to see it defeated.”

Farm Bureau has made a statewide radio buy to run ads in opposition to Issue 4.

The ballot question committee that supports Issue 4, Responsible Growth Arkansas, has spent several millions of dollars to advocate for its passage on television and radio. Another ballot question committee that opposes Issue 4, Safe and Secure Communities, has also spent millions of dollars to defeat the measure.

A Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll in mid-October showed the race has tightened considerably in recent weeks. 50.5% supported Issue 4, while 43% opposed. The remaining 6.5% were undecided.

Gov. Hutchinson closed the press conference by answering a reporter’s question if legalized marijuana would present any different challenge than alcohol in the workplace.

“You can make some comparisons between the two. If you accept that argument, you have two choices,” the governor said. “Let’s reduce the number of harmful substances that could impair our workforce. It’s as simple as that to me.”

Roby Brock is the Editor-in-Chief and Host of Talk Business & Politics.