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Democratic gubernatorial candidate supports constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana use

by Michael R. Wickline | August 2, 2022 at 8:08 p.m.
Chris Jones, Democratic gubernatorial candidate, speaks to supporters from Sebastian County on Saturday, July 30, 2022.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones said Tuesday that he supports the Responsible Growth Arkansas committee's proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana.

Jones, of Little Rock, said ballot initiatives elevate the voices of Arkansans, who have made very important decisions when given the opportunity to do so. This recreational marijuana ballot initiative is no different, he said, adding that it is a chance for Arkansas to lead the South.

"I support the thoughtful decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, and I support the Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative on the ballot this November 8, " Jones said in a written statement.

According to the secretary of state's office, the Responsible Growth Arkansas committee turned in the required number of valid signatures of registered voters to qualify its proposed constitutional amendment one step closer to appearing on the general election ballot.

The state Board of Election Commissioners still must approve the proposed constitutional amendment's proposed popular name and ballot title before it qualifies for the ballot. The board is scheduled to consider taking action on the proposal Wednesday afternoon.

The proposal would allow issuance of adult-use cannabis cultivation and dispensary licenses to businesses that already hold licenses under the state’s medical marijuana program, followed by an additional 40 licenses chosen by a lottery.

It would limit the sale of cannabis to people 21 or older and prohibit advertising and packaging designed to appeal to children. It would provide regulatory oversight by limiting the number of licensed businesses and would not not allow for homegrown cannabis. It would restrict the number of cannabis licenses to 20 cultivators and 120 dispensaries statewide, which includes existing medical marijuana licenses.

Jones said that "regardless of what one thinks personally about the prospect of legal recreational marijuana, the revenue created by this ballot initiative would support general fund investments that can unlock the potential of Arkansas — in areas like education starting with preschool, infrastructure starting with broadband, and economic development starting with jobs — while supporting the state drug court program, UAMS and law enforcement."

No matter the outcome of the vote, he said there is a great need to address the problematic social justice issues that are the direct result of the criminalization of marijuana.

"These critical issues can be solved if we come together and focus on solutions that benefit all Arkansans," Jones said. "That's what I hope to do as governor."

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. of Pine Bluff said Tuesday that he supports the Responsible Growth Arkansas committee's proposed constitutional amendment as well.

"I wish it were a little more open to get into that business," he said of the proposal.

He said he preferred the Arkansas True Grass committee's ill-fated proposal that would not have capped the number of cannabis businesses in the state and would automatically release people who are incarcerated solely because of a marijuana-related charge.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Little Rock hasn't yet taken a position on the Responsible Growth Arkansas' proposed constitutional amendment.

Last month, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he opposes the legalization of marijuana.

“The biggest challenge with the legalization of marijuana is that it dramatically increases marijuana use and the harm that goes with it,” he said. “Also, I do not support a measure that would directly violate federal law."


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