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2nd Rx-'pot' lawsuit cites signature-gathering flaws

by Brian Fanney | September 3, 2016 at 3:52 a.m.

The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act faces a second lawsuit aiming to invalidate any votes for the proposal in the Nov. 8 general election.

The new lawsuit, filed on Friday by Kara Benca, a Little Rock lawyer, focuses on how Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group backing it, gathered the signatures required to place the initiated act on the ballot. The earlier lawsuit, filed Aug. 24 by a coalition of groups opposed to medical marijuana, complains about the wording that appears on the ballot.

Friday's suit asks the Arkansas Supreme Court to declare 15,000 signatures invalid, which would leave the act's sponsor without enough valid signatures. The lawsuit also asks that Secretary of State Mark Martin's office be prevented from counting votes for the proposal. No court hearing has been set for either suit.

The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act -- like the competing Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, which also has been certified for the ballot -- would allow the drug to be used to treat patients under the direction of a doctor. No lawsuits have been filed against the proposed constitutional amendment.

The proposed measures differ in their approaches. For example, the act would allow patients who meet certain standards to grow their own marijuana. The amendment does not contain a grow-your-own provision. Both proposals would allow marijuana to be made available through dispensaries.

The latest complaint states that Arkansans for Compassionate Care failed to properly name and educate its signature gatherers, to provide necessary documentation to Martin's office and to document if signature gatherers were paid or unpaid volunteers.

The suit states that some canvassers did not include their residences on petition forms, failed to properly date their verification of signatures and did not watch residents sign petitions, as required by law.

Benca could not be reached for comment after the suit was filed Friday evening. She says she is a life member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, known as NORML, in the lawsuit.

NORML's mission is "to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable," according to the Washington, D.C., group's website.

Melissa Fults, campaign manager for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, said her group's signature collection process followed the law.

"We have checked all the signatures," she said. "The secretary of state has checked all the signatures and I'm sure this will all be straightened out in court."

The group's attorney, John Wesley Hall of Little Rock, is also a life member of NORML, Fults said.

David Couch, a Little Rock-based lawyer who backs the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, said he was not behind the lawsuit but did share information.

"We were aware of some of the problems in the lawsuit, and that's one of the reasons we didn't stand down," he said. "We followed the law, and we want Arkansans to vote on this important issue."

Fults had repeatedly asked Couch to withdraw his proposed amendment.

If both the act and the amendment ended up on the November ballot, both would fail, she said.

A spokesman for Martin's office has said if both proposals are approved by voters, the one getting the most votes would take effect.

Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, who is serving as spokesman for Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana, said his group was not behind this lawsuit.

Bledsoe's group filed the Aug. 24 lawsuit alleging problems with the ballot title of the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, but that lawsuit didn't challenge the signature-gathering process.

"It contains misleading statements, omits material information that is essential for a fair understanding of the Act, and is tinged with partisan coloring," that complaint reads in part.

Bledsoe's group includes the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation, the Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities, the Family Council Action Committee and the Arkansas Committee for Ethics Policy.

"We have concerns regarding both of these pieces of legislation," Bledsoe said. "We're continuing to review both the act and the amendment. The fact that other groups are concerned and filing legal challenges doesn't surprise us."

Fults said she didn't know whether anyone besides Benca is involved in the lawsuit.

"I have no idea and it doesn't really matter. It's just someone trying to get in the way," she said. "I have all my paperwork, and I'll be glad to take it to the Supreme Court and show that we did what we are supposed to do."

A Section on 09/03/2016

Print Headline: 2nd Rx-'pot' lawsuit cites signature-gathering flaws


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