Campaign working to put legalization and expungement initiatives on the 2020 ballot; medical marijuana program continues to ramp up
Last update: December 5, 2019
In 2020, Arkansas could make history and become the first southern state to end marijuana prohibition and wipe the slate clean for people with marijuana convictions on their records.
Arkansans for Cannabis Reform is spearheading two ballot initiatives to accomplish these goals. The first would establish a system to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and older. The second would create a pathway for individuals to remove previous marijuana offenses from their criminal records, making it easier for them to get jobs and access social benefits.
Each petition requires just over 89,000 voter signatures, and the campaign has established signing locations all over the state. The campaign is asking for donations to ramp up their signature drive and ensure the initiatives qualify by July of next year.
In 2016, Arkansas voters approved a proposal to establish a medical marijuana program. After a slow start, dispensaries are now open across the state, with roughly 30,000 patients registered with the Department of Health. You can learn more about the program here.
Current law is one of the harshest nationwide
Arkansas has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the nation, but despite increasing interest around the country for improvements to marijuana laws, the Arkansas Legislature has shown little interest in changing its cannabis laws. Possessing less than four ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor carrying up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Possessing an ounce of marijuana or more by those who have twice been convicted of possession is a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $6,000.
A decriminalization bill was introduced in 2019 but did not advance before the legislature adjourned. Contact your lawmakers and ask them to make marijuana decriminalization a priority in 2020.
Let your lawmakers know it’s long past time for a more proportionate and fiscally sound approach to marijuana. Twenty-six states — including Mississippi, North Carolina, and Missouri — have decriminalized or legalized marijuana. Ask your legislators to impose a civil fine on marijuana possession or to regulate marijuana like alcohol.
In 2012, there were at least 5,718 marijuana arrests in Arkansas. Of those arrests, over 90% were for marijuana possession. During the same year, 91% of all reported burglaries, including home invasions, and over 90% of all motor vehicle thefts went unsolved. Law enforcement should stop wasting time on marijuana-related offenses and use its resources to stop real crime.
In addition to wasting law enforcement time on victimless marijuana offenses, marijuana enforcement has been extremely unequal in Arkansas. African Americans in Arkansas are over three times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana compared with whites, although both black and white populations consume marijuana at similar rates. To learn more about how the war on marijuana can be used to discriminate against African Americans in the U.S. and in Arkansas, check out the ACLU’s recent report.
Voters in Eureka Springs and Fayetteville made marijuana enforcement a low enforcement priority in 2006 and 2008. However, a 2019 report by the Arkansas Justice Collective found that marijuana arrests actually increased by 44% in Fayetteville since the measure passed. Pressure is building to make voters’ will a reality.
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