Family Council organizes campaign against legalization of recreational marijuana in Arkansas

2 sides mobilize across Arkansas

FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2019 file photo, marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif.

A conservative political organization announced plans Tuesday for a statewide campaign opposing marijuana legalization in Arkansas that will include holding meetings in 25 cities and towns across the state.

The Family Council Action Committee said its campaign against Issue 4 will also involve a radio campaign, the mobilization of hundreds of churches, a social media campaign and a potential coalition between organizations who disapprove of marijuana legalization.

Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council Action Committee, said the group's campaign will focus on the negative aspect of the marijuana industry being included as part of the Arkansas Constitution if the measure is passed, the low tax on marijuana, the dangers of THC and how the amendment is bad for children and families.

"Enough is enough. Arkansas does not need another drug problem," Cox said during the news conference. "Their entire business model depends on creating more people who are drug dependent in the state of Arkansas. That is the last thing we need."

Cox said the statewide tour will take place over the span of two weeks and will include news conferences, meetings with community leaders and literature distribution urging voters to vote against the amendment.

"When you have the far right, the far left and just about all the businesses and other organizations in between saying they don't like it, then people ought to pause and take a look to see what this is really all about," he said.

Cities where stops are expected to be made include Arkadelphia, Batesville, Bentonville, Benton, Camden, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Texarkana and West Memphis.

"There will be team of us that will be doing the tour stops, so there will be six of us altogether working different cities," Cox said. "Another part that we are working on is producing a number of short videos that will be pushed out over social media."

The Responsible Growth Arkansas' proposed constitutional amendment 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 allow homegrown cannabis. It would limit the number of cannabis licenses to 20 cultivators and 120 dispensaries statewide, which includes existing medical marijuana licenses.

In 2016 Arkansas voters approved Amendment 98, the constitutional change that legalized cannabis for medical use. The first dispensaries in the state opened in 2019.

Eddie Armstrong, chair of Responsible Growth Arkansas, a pro-marijuana legalization group, said he wasn't surprised to hear about the opposition campaign and that he doesn't believe Responsible Growth Arkansas needs to change its approach in response to Tuesday's announcement.

"We have been campaigning statewide for over a year now," Armstrong said. "It started with us going across the state getting almost 200,000 signatures, and it shows in recent polling that emphasizes the statewide support that is twice as high as the opposition."

A Talk Business-Hendrix College poll of 835 likely Arkansas voters conducted September 12 showed 58.5% of the respondents were in support of the proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana, 29% were against the proposed ballot measure, with 12.5% undecided. The poll's margin of error was plus- or minus-3.8 percentage points.

"We see support for the measure across a variety of demographics suggesting that opponents will have a tough time peeling off votes to defeat the proposal," Talk Business and Politics Editor in Chief Roby Brock said Sept. 15.

Armstrong said Responsible Growth Arkansas plans to continue to get its message out to the public.

"We will continue with the message of supporting cancer research, creating a better economy, creating new jobs and supporting law enforcement," he said. "The campaign has never stopped. I am not tired. I am more fired up."

Armstrong said the group has been running television ads in support of Issue 4 for about three weeks.

"I would say the 200,000 signed petitions to get this on the ballot and the over 100,000 patients with medical marijuana cards speaks a lot to the fact that Arkansas voters would like to see legalization happen now," he said.

Cox said the amendment would allow the marijuana industry to write itself into the state's constitution. He said Issue 4 doesn't allow for the Legislature to regulate, tax, zone or change the marijuana amendment.

"Whatever it is, we will be stuck with it," Cox said. "Even if it's fatally flawed, even if it turns out to be train wreck, we will be stuck with it from now on because that is the way they wrote it."

"I think it's important to realize this is an amendment crafted by the marijuana industry for their own benefit. I would say it's an uncontrollable monopoly, and that is the first thing that is wrong with it."

Cox also attacked the proposed tax benefits the legalization of marijuana would bring to the state.

"It only taxes marijuana at about half the rate they do in Colorado," he said. "The idea there will be lots of money for police and lots of money for hospitals and drug courts is not true."

The Arkansas Economic Development Institute, which studied the economics of legalizing recreational cannabis, said new revenues from legal marijuana would total $460 million over five years. Legalization would bring $210 million to the state's general revenue funds, create around 6,400 new jobs and increase Arkansas' gross domestic product by $2.36 billion over five years, according to the study.

Cox said nobody can convince him that legalizing marijuana is going to lead to fewer people being addicted to drugs.

"Our highways will be more dangerous, our schools will have a lot more problems, and our government will have to get a lot bigger to clean up all the problems this will create," he said. "It's simply not worth it. All the promises are not worth it because Arkansas does not need another drug problem."

Armstrong, however, said he hopes people will take a look at the amendment for themselves.

"The people of Arkansas will pay attention to the issues, not the rhetoric," he said.