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Both sides make final push ahead of Arkansas recreational marijuana vote

Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill speaks in a news conference at the Arkansas State Capitol on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022.
Daniel Breen
Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill speaks in a news conference at the Arkansas State Capitol on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022.

Arkansas voters will decide on Tuesday whether the state will be the first in the south to legalize recreational marijuana.

Recent polls show voters nearly evenly split for and against Issue 4, which would legalize sales and use of cannabis for adults over 21 years of age.

A coalition of activists, state officials and industry groups opposed to the measure made their final plea to voters in a news conference at the state Capitol on Monday. State Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe says he’s concerned with the proposed amendment lifting concentration limits on the psychoactive component of marijuana.

“In the 1960s, the marijuana products that were on the streets had about 3% to 5% THC… today in other states, what we’re seeing are synthetic forms of these products that have concentrations of 80%, 90% and greater which is really concerning to me as a healthcare provider and also as a dad with young children,” Bledsoe said.

Representatives from the Arkansas Trucking Association, the Arkansas Farm Bureau and the Associated General Contractors of Arkansas said the proposal could lead to more on-the-job accidents and having fewer qualified candidates.

Central Arkansas’ Republican U.S. Congressman French Hill urged Arkansans to vote against the measure, saying it could lead to higher rates of drug addiction.

“I said to my Libertarian friends, if you were for smoking dope by the campfire out at your farm, you wouldn’t vote for this measure because it institutionalizes something that can’t be change, can’t be regulated, can’t be taxed, can’t be overseen, and we’re not even doing a good job of that in medical marijuana,” Hill said.

Several pro-marijuana groups and advocates have also come out against Issue 4, saying it limits industry competition and does nothing to expunge past criminal convictions for cannabis. Industry leaders say they hope to tackle expungement in the upcoming legislative session.

Issue 4, also known as the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, would do away with existing taxes on medical marijuana and would dedicate tax revenue from recreational sales to law enforcement and cancer research. It would not allow residents to grow their own cannabis, and would expand the number of licensed cultivators to 20 and dispensaries to 120 statewide.

Robert McLarty is campaign director of Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group behind Issue 4. He says it will ultimately be up to voters to make their own decisions at the ballot box.

“This kind of represented insiders, groups, trade organizations, but over 200,000 people signed this to get it on the ballot, and ultimately the people will decide how they’re going to vote on this and not the powerful and the politicians,” McLarty said.

McLarty called the campaign a “dead heat” leading up to Tuesday’s election. Issue 4 is the only amendment referred by voters on the ballot, with three other proposals referred by the legislature.

Arkansas voters first approved the state’s medical marijuana program in 2016.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.