It's confirmed: Arkansas voters will get the chance to vote on recreational adult-use cannabis this November.
Arkansas Issue 4, the Marijuana Legalization Initiative, is currently on the ballot as an initiated amendment to the Arkansas state Constitution. Until earlier this week, it was still up in the air whether or not the votes would be counted because the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners refused to approve the ballot measure on August 3.
The board claimed that the language on the ballot was misleading. On August 4, Responsible Growth Arkansas brought a lawsuit to the Arkansas Supreme Court to make the final decision.
And on September 22, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the measure will remain on the ballot and votes will be counted.
A “Yes” vote on Issue 4 supports the legalization of personal use of cannabis for those over 21. Adults would be permitted to possess up to one ounce of marijuana.
Additionally, the state would issue a 10% tax on all cannabis products – 15% of which would go to Arkansas Law Enforcement. Businesses in Arkansas that distribute medical marijuana would be permitted to open up shop to recreational customers. If passed, the state will distribute forty additional licenses for the sale of recreational cannabis to qualified businesses based on a lottery system.
Arkansas voters first considered medical marijuana in 2012 but voted against the measure, with 49% in support and 51% in opposition. Four years later voters reversed themselves, voting in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. The 2016 initiative earned 53% of voters positive vibes, passing Issue 6 in 2016.
Supporters Believe Economic Prosperity Is Imminent
Responsible Growth Arkansas, the sponsor of the Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative, believes welcoming recreational cannabis to its state will benefit its citizens in many ways.
According to their website, Issue 4 would limit the number of businesses licensed to sell and distribute adult-use recreational cannabis products and keep kids safe as a result. Responsible Growth Arkansas argues that the initiative “limits the number of licensees to grow and sell cannabis to a total of 20 cultivators and 120 dispensaries statewide, including existing medical licensees. These limited licenses will help law enforcement keep cannabis out of the hands of minors and off the black market.”
The group also points to evidence from the state’s existing medical marijuana industry. They argue that the legalization of recreational cannabis will continue the trend of economic opportunity for residents of Arkansas. “Our state’s successful medical marijuana program has already brought in well over $400 million in sales, including $1.25 million a day in 2020 alone. These funds are helping state and local economic development efforts across the state.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones supports the passage of the Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative because of these benefits and more. “This initiative is a good first step toward Arkansas embracing a pragmatic cannabis policy,” Jones said in a statement following the Supreme Court decision. “If approved by the majority of Arkansans, this new policy will encourage economic growth of a new business market, deliver funding to support priorities like education and community safety, equip our hard-working law enforcement to keep us safe by focusing on serious crimes, and protect consumers.”
Opponents Argue Harm to Kids
Some opponents of the Arkansas Marijuana Legalization initiative believe that the harmful effects of legalizing marijuana outweigh its economic benefits.
Safe and Secure Communities, the committee registered in opposition to Issue 4, argues that marijuana creates unsafe environments for children. According to their website, the group believes “The pot industry is directly targeting kids, even though hundreds of scientific studies show that marijuana – especially today’s high-potency weed – permanently damages the teenage brain. Teens who smoke pot regularly drop out at twice the rate of non-users, and as adults they earn less and have a lower IQ.”
Arkansas’ Republican Governor, Asa Hutchinson, supports Safe and Secure Communities and agrees that Issue 4 would harm Arkansas youth. In a September 9 tweet, he shared his concerns. “The science is clear. Recreational marijuana leads to increased drug use among minors & more dangerous roadways. This November, I’m voting NO on Issue 4 to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas & I hope you’ll join me.”
Some of those who support legal cannabis aren't in support of Issue 4, like Arkansas NORML. The group is sponsoring a marijuana legalization ballot initiative in 2024 that is more people-oriented. Melissa Fults, Treasurer of Arkansas NORML, shared some key examples in a digital statement to Wealth of Geeks. “[Issue 4 fails to] expunge prior convictions, even small ones that are under one ounce,” Fults explained.
Fults also shared the group’s concerns with the distribution of taxes under Issue 4. “15% of the sales tax goes to law enforcement, the very people who have pursued and incarcerated marijuana users, and 5% goes to fund drug courts. Why aren’t those revenues going to programs that HELP consumers and patients?”
Campaign Finance for Support and Opposition
Safe and Secure Communities and Responsible Growth Arkansas registered as committees to support their respective views during the campaign.
Safe and Secure Communities received $2 million from its two donors. $1.25 million came from Ronald M. Cameron, the CEO of one of the largest chicken producers in the U.S., Mountaire Corporations. The other donor, Richard Uihlein, contributed $750 thousand to oppose Issue 4. He is the CEO of Uline, the shipping supplies company.
Responsible Growth Arkansas received most of its donations from medical marijuana dispensaries and other companies in the cannabis industry. It received $4.01 million and spent over $3 million to finance the campaign for legal cannabis. Its top five donors were all local medical marijuana dispensaries, including Osage Creek Cultivation ($800 thousand), Good Day Farms Arkansas ($700 thousand), Bold Team LLC ($700 thousand), DMCC LLC ($435 thousand), and GL Partners ($100,000).
Poll Results Point Towards Legalization
A poll conducted by Hendrix College on September 12 asked 835 participants whether or not they would vote in favor of legal marijuana in November. 58.5% of respondents said they plan to vote “Yes” on Issue 4, with 29% who plan to vote “No” and 12.5% still undecided.
Arkansas residents won’t know whether or not cannabis is legalized in their state until after voters hit the polls on November 8.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Maya (she/they) is a professional freelance writer and editor. Her writing is featured in TransLash News & Narrative, Healthline’s Bezzy Depression, HorrorPress, the Episodes Newsletter, and more. They’re passionate about social justice, history, and entertainment journalism. In her free time, she loves binging horror movies, spending time with her girlfriend, and needle-felting monster sculptures.