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Marijuana amendment, three other proposals appear headed to defeat

Opponents of a recreational marijuana amendment spoke at a press conference on Nov. 1 across from the Arkansas state Capitol.
Michael Hibblen
Opponents of a recreational marijuana amendment spoke at a press conference on Nov. 1 across from the Arkansas state Capitol.

A constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana appeared headed to defeat as of 10 p.m., Tuesday night, along with at least two of the three proposed constitutional amendments referred to voters by legislators.

Fifty-seven percent of the voters, or 283,826, had said no to Issue 4, the amendment that would make recreational marijuana legal, while 43%, or 215,3695, had voted for the amendment.

As of 10 p.m., 507,451 ballots had been tallied, which was 28.56% of the state’s registered voters. Three other ballot issues referred to voters by legislators were also failing to attract sufficient support, though one was still too close to call.

Issue 1 would allow state legislators to call themselves into special session if done so by both the speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tempore, or by votes of two-thirds of both chambers. Currently, the governor must call a special session. It was trailing, 61% to 39%.” Numerically, it was trailing 293,054 to 184,774.

Issue 2 would increase the vote percentage required to pass a constitutional amendment or an initiated act from the current simple majority to 60%. An initiated act is a law passed by voters that has the same force as one passed by legislators. It was trailing, 60% to 40%, or 287,294 to 193,035.

Issue 3, which would create the “Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment,” was the closest of the three and could still be in doubt. It was trailing 52% to 48%, or 251,235 to 234,504. The amendment says that state and local governments cannot burden a person’s religion without a compelling interest. It would codify into the Constitution language similar to an already existing state law.

The marijuana measure saw a complete turnaround in public support from a poll taken two months earlier by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College. That September poll showed 58.5% of respondents supported the measure while 29% were opposed and 12.5% were undecided.

But support began to fall as opponents attacked the issue from multiple directions. In a Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College poll taken Oct. 17-18, support had fallen to 50.5% while opposition had increased to 43%.

Business groups including the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Arkansas Farm Bureau said it would create workforce challenges. Unlikely bedfellows, the conservative Family Council Action Committee along with pro-marijuana supporters David Couch and Melissa Fults, said the amendment would grant permanent constitutional licenses to a small number of growers. Others pointed to the harm marijuana could cause.

Couch, who sponsored the medical marijuana amendment passed by voters in 2016, has said he will attempt to pass a recreational marijuana proposal in 2024.

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and contributor to Talk Business & Politics.