Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana filed suit Wednesday to stop the state from counting votes cast in November for a proposed initiated act that would legalize the drug for medical purposes.
The complaint, filed with the Arkansas Supreme Court, alleges problems with the ballot title of the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act.
"It contains misleading statements, omits material information that is essential for a fair understanding of the Act, and is tinged with partisan coloring," the complaint reads in part.
According to the complaint, the ballot title "falsely tells voters that the Act limits the use of marijuana"; "gives the false impression that all marijuana will be tested for quality, safety, and potency"; and "fails to tell the voters that the Act permits 'cannabis care centers' to sell food and drink that contains marijuana," among other issues.
Melissa Fults, campaign manager for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group sponsoring the act, said she's not worried about the lawsuit. She noted that the attorney general's office edited the ballot title to ensure clarity. The ballot title was approved by the office of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel on Aug. 14, 2014.
"I don't think they have a leg to stand on. I'm not worried. I'm really not," Fults said. "With everything else we've gone through, this is nothing. This is just a little ripple in the water."
Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana is asking the Supreme Court to prevent the secretary of state from "certifying any ballots cast for the Act at the general election to be held on November 8, 2016."
The group also wants the ballot title declared insufficient and wants to be awarded attorneys' fees.
Monday is the deadline for candidates to draw ballot positions for the election. Soon after, counties will begin printing the ballots.
State Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, who is serving as spokesman for the anti-medical marijuana group, said he doesn't believe that the Supreme Court will act before ballots are printed, so the group is asking that election officials not count the votes cast.
Members of Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana include the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation, the Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities, the Family Council Action Committee, the Arkansas Committee for Ethics Policy and psychiatrist Melanie Conway.
The group formed earlier this week.
Conway is designated on the suit as the plaintiff, both individually and on behalf of Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana. The defendant is Secretary of State Mark Martin, whose office certified the proposal had sufficient valid signatures to be placed on the ballot.
"Calling this stuff medicine, pushing it as a safe therapy, is just not accurate and, along with the other language issues that are highlighted in the complaint, we felt like we needed to pursue this," Bledsoe said. "We want a fair representation of what the legislation is and what it does."
Asked about the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, a competing measure, Bledsoe said: "We need to look at the language a little bit more carefully, and we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
The amendment has not been certified for the ballot, but David Couch, a Little Rock lawyer backing the amendment, submitted more signatures to the secretary of state's office on Friday.
In 2012, the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values sued over the ballot title of an act backed by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, and lost.
At the time, the coalition included Family Council President Jerry Cox and Faith and Ethics Council Executive Director Larry Page.
Both are also part of Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana.
The 2012 coalition argued that the ballot title, at 384 words, was too long and voters would not have adequate time in the voting booth to review it.
The coalition also argued that the title didn't give voters enough detail about what the law would do.
"The title informs the voters in an intelligible, honest and impartial manner," Justice Karen Baker wrote in the opinion four years ago. "The ballot title is not unduly long, nor is it complex or misleading." No justices dissented. The proposal lost on Election Day, getting 507,757 votes out of 1,045,655 cast.
Wednesday, Bledsoe said the group could still file a complaint about the way signatures were gathered for the initiated act.
"We have some concerns over the signatures as well, but we felt that the language was more problematic at this point in time," he said. "We haven't ruled out attacking the signatures, because we do feel like there are some issues, but we decided to start with the language because we felt like it was more problematic."
Fults, the campaign manager for the ballot measure, said the lawsuit wasn't a surprise.
"They sued us in 2012, and they lost," she said. "I don't expect anything different this time."
Judd Deere, spokesman for McDaniel's successor, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, declined to comment about the lawsuit.
A Section on 08/25/2016