A second group pushing for an amendment on the November ballot to legalize recreational marijuana has given up on gathering signatures.
In a Facebook post Saturday evening, Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment sponsor Melissa Fults said the effort had failed to collect a sufficient number of signatures and cited the coronavirus pandemic as the biggest reason, though she said there were other contributing factors.
Fairs and festivals where the group would have normally gathered a large number of signatures were canceled because of covid-19, Fults told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Monday. She also pointed to the state's decision to appeal a judge's ruling that allowed for mail-in signatures, making it unclear whether signatures gathered that way will count.
"There's no way to gather the number of signatures that we still need," Fults said. "Had it not been for covid, I think we would have absolutely made the ballot without any problem."
She estimated that the group had gathered between 35,000 and 40,000 signatures, less than half of the 89,151 required by the Monday deadline.
Fults said the group had raised about $65,000. She said about $10,000 of that would go back to donors, and the rest was used for legal fees, banners, canvasses, booths at various functions, printing petitions and other supplies.
Looking ahead, Fults said she plans to lobby the state Legislature for a marijuana decriminalization bill in 2021 and work with the Arkansas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Arkansas True Grass, a separate group that was working to get an adult recreational cannabis amendment on the 2020 ballot, decided in May to shift its focus to the 2022 ballot instead. The two proposed amendments differed slightly from each other in the details, but both would legalize cannabis for recreational use for adults.
Briana Boling, director of media relations and central Arkansas representative for Arkansas True Grass, said the organization was working to replace the 2020 petitions it had distributed to businesses with 2022 ones.
She said the group had gathered close to 20,000 signatures for the 2020 ballot initiative when "the virus came and shut down all the events" and caused some businesses where the organization had posted petitions to close their doors.
"We just didn't make it," she said. "We didn't have the signatures."
Another signature-gathering effort, this one by Arkansas Voters First, is still underway. The group aims to create an independent commission to draw congressional and legislative boundaries.
Arkansas Voters First spokesman George Shelton said a "drive and sign" signature collection event in four cities over the weekend was successful.
Shelton did not provide the exact number of signatures the group had collected Monday afternoon, because he said it was changing quickly. Shelton said he felt sure that the organization would meet the threshold. He said the group is trying to collect enough in-person signatures in case the state decides to throw out mail-in signatures.
"What we do know is that we are rapidly collecting as many as possible. It tends to have a snowball effect -- more signatures the closer you get to the turn-in date. It's going to be very, very close and we feel confident that we're going to do it," he said.