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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: On legalizing marijuana

by John Brummett | September 28, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

In a few weeks the voters of Arkansas will choose whether to legalize marijuana for adults.

I don't mean for medical purposes. That's already legal. I mean for fun--for sale for personal use.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled 5-to-2 last week to keep the proposal on the ballot and count the votes. It rejected a lawsuit arguing there should be more details in the ballot title.

The court said one can't be expected to put every potentially decisive detail in a ballot title. The point is to inform sufficiently and not mislead. At some reasonable point, the court said, you must trust the voters.

The choice likely will come down to whether a majority of voters will trust state regulators.

You're probably going to be hearing more about Issue 4, this proposed constitutional amendment, than about Sarah Sanders and Chris Jones.

People already in the medical marijuana business, who would be grandfathered into the recreational marijuana business, have anted up millions to spend to promote passage. A couple of rich conservatives have put in a couple of million dollars for opposition.

The current poll from Hendrix College and Talk Business and Politics showing the proposal favored by 58.5 percent of Arkansas respondents is intriguing. But that's a number existing without the context of the debate we're about to witness.

There are opponents who says the proposal is corrupted by its provision to give recreational sales licenses right off the top to people currently selling medical marijuana. But a proposal such as this one usually comes down to big-picture basics rather than nuance.

The fight by grow-your-own advocates against the politically connected medical-marijuana advantage is not likely to expand into a decisive general public debate. That's a weed-family fuss, people likely will figure.

The big-picture is this: Are you for legalized and highly taxed recreational marijuana or not?

But there is a certain notion coming from the religious-right Arkansas Family Council and other opponents from whom I'm already hearing. It is that the amendment is so open-ended that the sky will be the limit on THC content of products--and that drug lords could infiltrate the licensees and lace marijuana munchies with fentanyl made available to kids.

None of that, you'll be told, is expressly forbidden in this proposed amendment.

By design, constitutional law is best left generalized with details delegated to government's regulatory process. In this case, regulations and enforcement are left by the proposed amendment's text to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

It will come down to whether you trust what the proponents will offer as common-sense assurances that the ABC, well-experienced from longtime regulation of alcohol and enforcement of alcohol laws and regulations, can and certainly will come up with suitably rigorous and enforceable protective standards that would overpower such ... fears, you might say, or fearmongering, you might also say.

It will come down to whether you trust that state regulators and enforcement personnel can keep drug cartels from slipping in here and shooting fatal doses of opioids into our marijuana candy placed by dispensary doors for easy shoplifting by children.

The factors thus become common sense, trust and the track record of the ABC.

You'll hear from Gov. Asa Hutchinson that his service as director of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration commends his advice that the amendment be defeated. You'll hear from the state Corrections Board that inmate stories will convince you any drug expansion is dangerous.

You'll hear from Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Jones that it's time Arkansas joins the 20 states, Washington, D.C., and the territory of Guam that accept the practicality that the wisest thing is to legitimize and tightly regulate this market and reap tax-revenue benefit.

A 10 percent excise tax--on top of existing taxes--would raise money earmarked in part for law enforcement, drug court and medical research.

Don't defund the police; reward them with legalized and taxed marijuana ... that might be an unofficial campaign slogan. Or this: Want your income taxes cut? Then vote to legalize and tax marijuana.

But there is much more than that to be said, true or otherwise, between now and Election Day.

Do your voter diligence. Be more discerning here than when voting twice for Donald Trump for president.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.



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