Arkansas secretary of state declares proposed marijuana ballot measure insufficient

Secretary of State John Thurston speaks at the state Capitol in Little Rock in this July 2, 2020, file photo.
Secretary of State John Thurston speaks at the state Capitol in Little Rock in this July 2, 2020, file photo.

The Arkansas secretary of state has officially declared a proposed ballot measure that would legalize recreational marijuana as insufficient for inclusion on the November general election ballot, but officials say court proceedings are expected to continue.

John Thurston, secretary of the state, said Tuesday in a declaration to the Arkansas Supreme Court the proposed constitutional amendment is insufficient because the State Board of Election Commissioners did not certify the ballot title and popular name.

Kevin Niehaus, a spokesman for the secretary of state, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette he expects the declaration to be filed Tuesday with the state Supreme Court. He said the secretary of state's office believes the declaration is a formality that the state Supreme Court is going through and doesn’t believe the declaration will be the final decision on the recreational marijuana issue.

The state Supreme Court on Monday handed down a per curiam opinion that stated the court had issued a writ of mandamus to the secretary of state’s office to decide the sufficiency of the proposed initiative petition.

Steve Lancaster, counsel for Responsible Growth Arkansas, described the order as a “procedural step” to get clarification from the secretary of state. Lancaster said he remains confident the court will rule to keep the recreational marijuana issue on the ballot.

The decision is part of a weeks-long court battle in which two ballot question committees opposed to the proposed amendment were allowed to intervene in the case that will determine whether the amendment remains on the ballot.

Safe and Secure Communities filed its motion Aug. 24, stating the committee was created to “educate the public about the consequences of legalizing marijuana for personal use, and advocate for the defeat of an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution allowing the regulated sale of adult-use cannabis in the state.”

A week earlier the court had granted a request by the Save Arkansas from Epidemic committee, which stated it seeks to protect the interests and rights of Arkansans who oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Officials for Responsible Growth Arkansas filed a response last month to the initial motion to intervene, saying it came too late in the expedited proceeding without explanation, poses prejudice to petitioners by interjecting new issues when time is running short, and is unnecessary because respondents adequately represent intervenors’ interests.

Earlier in August, the state Supreme Court granted a petition to allow the proposed constitutional amendment back on the November ballot until the state Supreme Court decides how to proceed with the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners’ decision to not approve the proposed amendment’s ballot title.

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