Marijuana amendment rejected by state commission, needs Supreme Court to make ballot

Marijuana amendment rejected by state commission, needs Supreme Court to make ballot

The industry-backed effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas was dealt a serious blow Wednesday when a state commission voted unanimously not to certify the ballot title for the November election. 

Barring a successful appeal to the state Supreme Court, the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment sponsored by Responsible Growth Arkansas will not appear on the November ballot. 

Steve Lancaster, counsel for Responsible Growth, spoke in support of the measure during the state Board of Election Commissioners’ afternoon meeting at the state capitol, outlining the state Supreme Court’s standards for ballot titles. Lancaster said a ballot title is not required to include or explain every detail of the amendment. 

No one spoke in opposition. 

SUPPORT: Responsible Growth Arkansas counsel Steve Lancaster spoke in support of the ballot title. (Photo by Brian Chilson)

After Lancaster’s presentation, commissioner Bilenda Harris-Ritter questioned Lancaster on the amendment’s provision that individuals with less than 5% ownership in a marijuana business would not be required to undergo a background check. Harris-Ritter, appointed to the commission as the Republican Party designee in 2018, asked Lancaster if it would be possible for a group of people to own a dispensary without any of them having a background check if none of them own more than 5% of the business. Lancaster said it would be possible but “very speculative.” 

Harris-Ritter also took issue with the ballot title not stating that the amendment would repeal the 10 mg cap on THC content in edibles. 

OPPOSITION: Commissioner Jamie Clemmer voted against the ballot title. (Photo by Brian Chilson)

Commissioner Jamie Clemmer, appointed to the commission by Governor Hutchinson last year, also focused on the repeal of the 10 mg THC cap for edibles. 

“That is omitting something in my mind is pretty important,” Clemmer said. 

Lancaster said that level of detail is not required for a sufficient ballot title. 

OPPOSED: Democratic party designee James Harmon Smith III expressed concerns about repealing the 10mg THC cap on edibles. (Photo by Brian Chilson)

Commissioner James Harmon Smith III, the Democratic Party designee, said he was also concerned about repealing the 10 mg limit and didn’t think it was clear if the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division could impose a new limit. 

“That’s the only problem I saw with this at all, but I think that may be a fairly big problem,” Smith said. 

Harris-Ritter made the motion not to certify the ballot title. 

“I’m very mindful of the fact that they can’t put absolutely everything in here, but I think that’s significant,” Harris-Ritter said. 

After the vote, the board also voted not to certify the ballot title of an amendment concerning a casino in Pope County. 

The Board of Election Commissioners has considered the certification of ballot titles four times before today, certifying two ballot titles and rejecting two. Those amendments were appealed to the Supreme Court and our story about the board last month details how those played out. 

In 2019, the board certified an amendment by Safe Surgery Arkansas concerning the scope of practice of optometrists. The amendment was rejected by Secretary of State John Thurston due to an issue regarding signatures and Act 376. After a number of lawsuits and hearings, the state Supreme Court did not require the issue be put on the ballot

In 2020, the board considered three amendments. The board approved an amendment regarding the drawing of legislative districts, but rejected amendments concerning ranked-choice voting and the addition of 16 casinos to the state

Thurston ruled against all three amendments because of problems related to the signature-gathering process. 

Each amendment was appealed to the state Supreme Court, where Act 376 says the sponsor of the petition and any registered voter can appeal the ruling. 

The Supreme Court ruled against the groups pushing amendments on redistricting and ranked-choice voting. The group pushing the casino amendment appealed to the Supreme Court but gave up the fight before a hearing was set to take place before a special master. 

Responsible Growth needed the approval of the Board of Election Commissioners and at least 89,151 verified signatures to qualify the ballot. The secretary of state’s office declared last week that it had verified more than the required number of signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Responsible Growth has raised $3.26 million, mostly from five of the state’s cultivators, and spent $3.03 million, according to financial records.

For a rundown of Responsible Growth’s efforts to make the ballot, check out this summary.