Arkansas court says voters can decide medical marijuana plan

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that voters can consider a medical marijuana proposal on the November ballot.

Justices sided with supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow patients with certain medical conditions to purchase marijuana from dispensaries. The proposal is one of two medical marijuana proposals on the ballot.

A coalition of groups, including the state Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Farm Bureau, had asked the court to prevent officials from counting any votes for the measure in the Nov. 8 election.

The measure, The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016, allows patients with certain conditions to buy the drug, but differs from the second proposal in their restrictions and regulations. For example, the competing proposal allows patients to grow their own marijuana if they don't live near a dispensary.

[DOCUMENT: Read the court's full opinion]

Associate Justice Courtney Goodson wrote in the court’s opinion that justices disagreed with the petitioner’s contention that the ballot title is insufficient, misleading and would allow possible discriminatory practices.

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“In fact, the ballot title informs the voters that certain persons will not be subject to ‘forms of discrimination’ for engaging in the medical use of marijuana,” Goodson said, noting that a ballot title “need not contain a synopsis of the proposed amendment or cover every detail of it.”

Goodson added that the title is enough to “impart a fair understanding of the issues presented and the scope and significance of the proposed changes in the law.”

“We conclude that while inside the voting booth, the voters will be able to reach an intelligent and informed decision for or against The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016,” she wrote.

Arkansas voters narrowly rejected a medical marijuana proposal four years ago, despite national groups spending big in favor of legalization. Meanwhile, national support for medical marijuana has grown, and half of the states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug in some fashion.

The medical pot push faces more obstacles this year. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who headed the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, has spoken out against the measures. The state Democratic Party's platform includes general support for legalizing medical marijuana, but the platform is silent on the two ballot measures.

Hutchinson said in a news conference Thursday he has had “no change of heart” on the marijuana ballot initiative and still opposes it.

Check back for updates and read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Online reporters Brandon Riddle and Emma Pettit contributed to this story.

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