Ballot measure to legalize cannabis for adults falls short
In November 2022, for the first time ever, an initiated constitutional measure to legalize cannabis for adults appeared on the Arkansas ballot. With just over half of eligible voters participating in the election, Issue 4 was defeated by a 56.3% - 43.7% margin.
Opponents relied on a standard playbook of fear tactics to fight against the proposal, and although the measure would have directed cannabis tax revenue to Arkansas police departments, many local law enforcement groups urged voters to reject Issue 4. Several prominent politicians also campaigned against the ballot measure. Existing medical cannabis businesses in Arkansas were major backers of the effort.
Despite the loss, there is good reason to believe Arkansas voters are supportive of cannabis legalization in principle. Recent polls show that a majority of residents favor the idea, which suggests there is hope for future attempts to legalize cannabis. Fortunately, voters also soundly defeated Issue 2, which would have made future ballot initiatives more difficult to pass by raising the threshold for approval for constitutional amendments from a 50% simple majority to a 60% supermajority.
Adult-use legalization measure to appear on 2022 ballot, but lawsuit could invalidate results
Arkansas voters will have an opportunity to vote on ending cannabis prohibition this fall — but the results may not count, pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed in August. After state officials previously certified that a sufficient number of signatures had been submitted to qualify a constitutional cannabis legalization measure for the ballot, the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners issued a ruling to block voters from seeing the measure, alleging that aspects of the language would be confusing to voters.
The campaign backing the legalization proposal, Responsible Growth Arkansas, has filed an appeal with the Arkansas Supreme Court. Judges have ordered that the measure, known as Issue 4, be placed on the November general election ballot. But if the court ultimately agrees with the election board that the initiative’s language is confusing, the vote on the measure will be nullified. A local police chief has partnered with national prohibitionist lobbying group, SAM, to intervene in the case and present arguments against the legalization measure.
If enacted the measure would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of cannabis. The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Division would regulate and issue licenses for cultivation facilities and dispensaries; the state would collect revenue from a 10% supplemental tax on cannabis sales (in addition to normal state and local sales taxes). The full text of the measure can be found here, and you can read MPP’s summary of Issue 4 here.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, strongly opposes legalizing cannabis. However, recent polling shows the governor’s view is out of step with what most Arkansans think about the issue.
Medical cannabis in Arkansas
In 2016 voters approved Amendment 98, a ballot initiative legalized medical cannabis in Arkansas. The legislature amended the voter-approved law in 2017. The first medical cannabis dispensary in the state did not open until 2019. Since then nearly 100,000 patients have registered with the medical cannabis program, with dozens of dispensaries operating across the state.
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A new poll by Starboard Communications found 72% of South Carolina voters support allowing medical cannabis and only 15% are opposed! But because South Carolina doesn’t have a citizens’ initiative process, the only way to translate that overwhelming support into law is for the state legislature to act.