Two of Arkansas' medical marijuana dispensaries are under investigation after appearing to offer $10 in store credit to people who vote for Issue 4 in Tuesday's general election.
The investigation involves Suite 443 in Hot Springs and High Bank Cannabis Co. in Pine Bluff.
Issue 4 would legalize the use of recreational marijuana in Arkansas for adults.
Arkansas' Alcoholic Beverage Control Division was alerted about the "ads" on Wednesday, said Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration. He said the ads were posted on the wall in the dispensaries.
Hardin said ABC enforcement agents visited Suite 443 on Wednesday "to learn more."
"The owners have been fully cooperative," he said. "The ads have been pulled."
Hardin said he couldn't disclose details because an active ABC investigation is underway.
The promotions that caused concern were at the bottom of a list of 14 "claims" and "facts" regarding Issue 4.
"Vote for Issue 4, click the QR code below, tag us on Facebook telling us you voted for Issue 4 & get a $10 store credit!" it read. "BONUS if you post a picture of you with your voting sticker on our FB page you will be entered into a drawing to win a 55" TV!"
According to Arkansas Code Annotated § 7-1-104(4), "It shall be unlawful for any person to offer, accept, receive, or pay any person any money, goods, wares, or merchandise or solicit any money, goods, wares, or merchandise for the purpose of influencing his or her vote during the progress of any election in this state."
Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin tweeted about the dispensary promotions on Wednesday, saying "If this is authentic, it's a problem."
He cited 18 U.S. Code § 597, which reads: "Whoever makes or offers to make an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any candidate; and Whoever solicits, accepts, or receives any such expenditure in consideration of his vote or the withholding of his vote -- Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if the violation was willful, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."
After learning they might have violated the law, the dispensaries said in a prepared statement: "We support the People's right to decide all issues on the ballot, including Issue 4. Our recent promotion to get out the vote and encourage broader participation at the polls was misconstrued by some to suggest that we were requiring a vote for Issue 4 in order to obtain a discount in our store. That was not the case. However, to avoid any additional misunderstanding, we are no longer running the promotion. Regardless of your position on Issue 4, please vote!"
The ads also state: "For more information, please visit https://www.responsiblegrowtharkansas.com."
"Responsible Growth Arkansas is advocating for the passage of an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution which will authorize the possession, personal use, and consumption of cannabis by adults 21 and over, as well as the cultivation and sale of cannabis by licensed commercial facilities," according to the website.
An unidentified person at the website responded Thursday to an email asking about their involvement in the dispensary promotions.
"This is not associated with the campaign," the person responded via email. "We learned of this yesterday, it has no affiliation to us. To our knowledge they have taken it down and stopped this 'promotion'."
Daniel J. Shults, director of the State Board of Election Commissioners, said they were also notified.
"The SBEC learned through Secretary [of State John] Thurston's office that a potential violation of Arkansas election law may have occurred relating to the material you attached," Shults said in an email. "Both the Secretary's Office and the SBEC staff immediately notified relevant law enforcement entities of the material in question. I have no further information regarding this matter at this time."
While he couldn't speak about specifics of an active investigation, Hardin said he could highlight the rules regarding advertising medical marijuana.
"In order for a dispensary to offer or market any type of discount, it must be included in the company's Compassionate Care Plan," Hardin said in an email. "This plan details specific discounts that the dispensary offers customers. For example, a dispensary could not decide today to offer a 15% discount to senior citizens unless that was clearly included in the Compassionate Care Plan. Compassionate Care Plans may only be changed annually when companies renew their permits."
Also, state-licensed dispensaries must remain in full compliance with state law, said Hardin.
"Failure to remain in compliance with any state law could result in a violation," he said.
Consistent with all investigations, ABC enforcement agents will submit an investigation report to ABC Director Doralee Chandler and she will determine whether formal violations are issued and the penalties for those violations, said Hardin.
"The dispensaries may accept the violations and associated penalties (this could include fines, probation, etc.) or appeal the violations to the ABC Board," he said. "If owners disagree with the ABC Board's ruling, the next option is litigation in Circuit Court."