Campaign underway for marijuana legalization December 1, 2021 By Griffin Coop Arkansas adults will be able to legally purchase marijuana for recreational use by February 2023 if a recently filed constitutional amendment proposal makes the ballot and is approved by voters next year. The Arkansas Marijuana Amendment of 2022, filed and later revised in November by longtime Arkansas marijuana advocate Melissa Fults, will allow Arkansans ages 21 and over to possess up to 5 ounces of marijuana. The amendment would allow adults to grow up to six plants of their own in “micro-cultivation” cooperatives, expunge the criminal records of certain criminal offenses related to marijuana, and expand the number of dispensaries and cultivation facilities. “It’s fair to the consumer, it’s fair to the industry and it’s fair to the state,” Fults said. “You can’t get any better than that.” The amendment would make Arkansas the first state among its neighbors and only the second state in the South, after Virginia, to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. In total, 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for adult use. Thirteen of those states approved it at the ballot box, while the rest were enacted by state legislatures. State law now limits the number of dispensaries to 40 and cultivation facilities to eight. Fults’ amendment would increase the dispensaries to 1 for every 15,000 population, which would allow for about 200 dispensaries based on the most recent census data. The amendment would expand cultivation facilities to 1 for every 300,000 population, which would allow for about 10 cultivation facilities. The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division uses a similar system for allocating liquor licenses. The revised amendment would keep the existing medical marijuana program in place but would make a few changes to Amendment 98, which voters approved to legalize medical marijuana in 2016. The Arkansas Marijuana Amendment of 2022 would keep the current qualifying conditions for eligibility for a medical marijuana card but would allow physicians to use their own judgment as to what other conditions could be helped with medical marijuana. According to the amendment, “any condition that the physician using his/her medical judgment believes will be of therapeutic or palliative benefit to the patient” will qualify to make patients eligible for medical marijuana. Chronic and terminal patients would also be able to receive a lifetime marijuana card for a maximum fee of $100. Patients currently must pay $50 to renew their card annually. The amendment would also change how marijuana is taxed. Medical marijuana would no longer be subject to an excise tax, currently at 4%, and would only be subject to the state retail sales tax of 6% and local sales taxes. Recreational marijuana purchases would be taxed at 15% under the amendment. Revenue from the tax would go to administer the marijuana program, with excess revenue going into four categories: pre-kindergarten and after-school programs (40%), a fund to provide free or reduced-cost medical marijuana to low-income patients (20%), the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences National Cancer Institute (20%) and general revenues (20%). The amendment also expunges nonviolent felony and misdemeanor convictions for the possession or sale of 16 ounces or less of marijuana, six or fewer marijuana plants and paraphernalia intended for use with marijuana. “There are far too many people, especially people of color, whose lives have been destroyed over a plant,” Fults said. Fults said she anticipates having sufficient financial backing from people who have expressed support for her amendment. “If everybody comes through, I will definitely have sufficient money to gather signatures and get on the ballot,” she said. Couch supports David Couch, who authored the successful 2016 amendment in Arkansas, is working with Fults to get the 2022 amendment passed. Couch said he offered suggestions on how to revise Fults’ amendment to make it easier to pass, including automatic expungement of records rather than a requirement to petition a court. Couch, who supported a different amendment than Fults in 2016, said previously that he believes Arkansas will pass a recreational marijuana amendment with the right regulatory and tax structure. Couch said he expects opposition to the 2022 amendment, but he is confident in the positive aspects of the proposal and said the arguments against his 2016 amendment never came to pass. “The tax revenue is just going to be incredible,” Couch said. “The economic benefits are going to be incredible. Everything they said that was going to be bad about the medical marijuana program did not transpire. All of the economic benefits that we promoted on the medical marijuana program came to fruition even more than I anticipated.” Other Amendments The Arkansas Marijuana Amendment of 2022 isn’t the only recreational marijuana initiative that supporters are trying to get on the ballot. Arkansas True Grass, a group of advocates and volunteers, filed the Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Amendment of 2022. That amendment would allow adults to purchase up to 5 ounces of marijuana a day and grow up to 12 plants of their own. The amendment would also expunge criminal records related to marijuana. Additionally, former state legislator Eddie Armstrong filed a ballot committee called “Responsible Growth Arkansas” with the Arkansas Ethics Commission in October. The filing says the committee will “advocate for the passage of an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution to allow the regulated sale of adult-use cannabis in the state.” The filing lists Armstrong as the committee’s chair and T.J. Boyle as the treasurer. Responsible Growth Arkansas has not filed an amendment with the Arkansas secretary of state, which is necessary to begin collecting signatures to get on the ballot. Armstrong said via email that more details on the initiative will be coming in December. “Between our effort and the other two proposals being filed with the state, there is clearly growing consensus and support for an expansion of adult-use, recreational cannabis in Arkansas,” Armstrong said. “We are dedicated to bringing that about in a responsible and regulated way and we are taking the time to get this right. We are confident that as we build out our campaign efforts that we can bring on unified support behind commonsense proposals to move our state forward.” An amendment must have 89,151 verified signatures to get on the ballot. The deadline to submit petitions is July 8, 2022. Can they pass? Polls and election results show Americans have become more accepting of marijuana legalization in recent years. A spate of national polls show support for legalization, including a Gallup poll released in November that showed a record 68% of respondents favor legalization. That number has risen from just 12% when Gallup first polled the issue in 1969 and has doubled from 34% in 2001. A poll conducted in Arkansas last year found similar support. Conducted by Talk Business and Hendrix College June 9-10 last year, the poll found that 23.5% supported expansion of medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivators, 19% supported legalizing recreational marijuana and 46.5% supported doing both. The poll suggests that 65.5% of respondents supported legalizing recreational marijuana. “Look at pretty much any state or national poll, and the numbers just keep going up year after year,” said Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager for the Marijuana Policy Project. The Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit and lobbying organization, helps pass marijuana initiatives in states across the country, and provided some support to Arkansas’s successful medical marijuana amendment in 2016. After initially passing marijuana laws in more liberal states like Colorado and Washington, the organization has moved into states that are believed to be less friendly to marijuana initiatives, but the results have still been favorable, Moffat said. Even in the traditionally conservative states of Montana and South Dakota, marijuana initiatives passed at the ballot box last year with healthy margins. Montana passed an adult-use legalization initiative 57% to 43%, and South Dakota passed adult-use legalization by a vote of 54% to 46%. (Although the South Dakota measure passed, it was ruled unconstitutional earlier this year). “I think that when we can put it on the ballot, we feel very confident because we know [the majority of] voters in every state … agree with us,” Moffat said. Arkansas would be the first among its bordering states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Oklahoma, Missouri and Louisiana, like Arkansas, have legalized medical marijuana, although some industry leaders say Oklahoma operates more like a recreational market than a medical one. Mississippi voters legalized medical marijuana last year before it was ruled unconstitutional. Virginia became the first state in the South to legalize recreational marijuana when the Virginia legislature voted to legalize it earlier this year. The new laws took effect in July.