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Backers of recreational marijuana proposal tout $13 million raised, support from locals

Lance Huey speaks during a press conference Tuesday across from the Arkansas state Capitol in support of a proposed amendment to legalize recreational marijuana.
Michael Hibblen
Lance Huey speaks during a press conference Tuesday across from the Arkansas state Capitol in support of a proposed amendment to legalize recreational marijuana.

Touting a well-financed campaign and support from Arkansas business owners and their employees, Responsible Growth Arkansas, the pro recreational marijuana group, said Tuesday it was serving the interest of state citizens.

RGA is the ballot question committee for Issue 4, which would legalize recreational cannabis for adults over the age of 21, allowing them to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. If approved this November, the measure would not only legalize adult-use cannabis, but it would earmark tax proceeds for law enforcement stipends, cancer research at UAMS, drug courts across Arkansas, and general state revenues.

It also sets up a process for licensing retail dispensaries that includes existing medical marijuana operations as well as creates new licenses for additional retail outlets and cultivators. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 that legalized medical marijuana.

Lance Huey, a former Arkansas sheriff and co-chairman of RGA, said at a Little Rock press conference that the group’s ballot signatures of nearly 200,000, the scores of medical marijuana businesses, and their thousands of employees show support for broader access to marijuana.

“I can tell you we don’t need to defund the police, we need to fund the police and a vote for Issue 4 provides critical law enforcement funding. I know first-hand it’s time for our law enforcement to have the time and resources to go after serious crime and not low-level misdemeanors,” Huey said.

Huey also derided the out-of-state funding that is opposing Issue 4. Safe and Secure Communities is the ballot question committee opposing Issue 4. It has raised a little more than $2 million this cycle to fight the measure. Richard Uhlien of Lake Bluff, Illinois and Ronald Cameron of Little Rock have each contributed $1 million.

Huey said RGA’s $13 million has come mostly from in-state contributions. He also bragged on the amount of tax collections that Arkansas has received from medical marijuana sales and said Issue 4 will make that tax base even stronger. A recent UA Little Rock study funded by RGA showed Arkansas may add $2.4 billion to state GDP and 6,400 new jobs over a five-year period.

Huey addressed concerns raised yesterday from business and industry leaders who said legalizing marijuana would reduce the state’s workforce pool and potentially lead to more work-related accidents.

“We don’t want anybody impaired on the job,” he said.

In his Monday press conference with state business leaders, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said legalizing recreational marijuana use would provide another problem for employers to contend with.

“Let’s reduce the number of harmful substances that could impair our workforce. It’s as simple as that to me,” Hutchinson said.

Eddie Armstrong, co-chair of RGA and a former state representative, addressed concerns from opponents who say that legalizing marijuana will lead to it being a gateway to other drug use. He called that “speculation,” while Huey said that state regulators will set up boundaries to protect kids from having access to adult-use cannabis, just like they do with alcohol.

When asked if Issue 4 would create a monopoly for the medical marijuana business, which will be grandfathered in for licenses, Armstrong pointed to the supporters in the crowd.

“These are everyday, working Arkansans,” he said.

At Tuesday’s press conference, RGA also revealed that it is working on a detailed plan to tackle restorative justice to those who are incarcerated for possession of marijuana. The group said the proposal will include expungement for minor marijuana offenses and they hope to pass a new law in the upcoming legislative session. Issue 4 does not address this aspect of marijuana convictions.

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.

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