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Proposed Arkansas recreational marijuana amendment rejected by election commissioners

by Stephen Simpson | August 3, 2022 at 3:04 p.m.
FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2016 file photo, marijuana plants grow at a home in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marina Riker, File)

The Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners denied the popular name and ballot title for a constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana, saying the measure did not clearly specify whether there would be a certain THC limit on edibles. 

Commissioners unanimously voted not to certify the Responsible Growth Arkansas amendment that would issue 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.

The legal counsel for Responsible Growth Arkansas can file a lawsuit and take the issue to the Supreme Court if they so choose and argue that the measure should be included on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Board member Bilenda Harris-Ritter, who is the Republican Party's designee, said she was going to vote no on the ballot title because the amendment would repeal the current THC limits without explaining if a new limit would be set. 

"I know they can’t put every single thing in here but I think that is significant enough," she said. 

Steve Lancaster, counsel for Responsible Growth Arkansas, argued that the role of the Board of Election Commissioners is not to judge the amendment itself but to see if the ballot title has language that is misleading or omits information that could change a voter's mind. He said the repeal of the THC limit doesn't mean the limit is gone, arguing that the ballot title explains that the rules would be decided by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. 

"It is essentially a very minor part of the amendment," Lancaster said about repealing the THC limit. "I don't believe that would  necessarily cause a voter to potentially change their vote. It clearly sets out what is being repealed." 

Act 376 of 2019 shifted the responsibility of certifying a proposed ballot measure's popular name and ballot title from the attorney general to the Board of Election Commissioners.

Certification of the ballot title and popular name is one of the two requirements under state law for a proposal to get on the general election ballot. The other requirement is for the secretary of state to certify that the sponsor has submitted the required number of valid signatures of registered voters on petitions. 

Petitioners for Responsible Growth Arkansas said in July they had submitted 192,828 signatures, more than twice the number required, in their bid to qualify the measure for the general election ballot.

The measure was approved by the secretary of state after signature counters reached 90,000 verified signatures last week. 

The initiative limits the sale of cannabis to people 21 or older and prohibits advertising and packaging designed to appeal to children. It provides regulatory oversight by limiting the number of licensed businesses and does not allow for homegrown cannabis.

It also limits the number of cannabis licenses to 20 cultivators and 120 dispensaries statewide, which includes existing medical marijuana licenses.

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