The count is on: Responsible Growth submits 192,000 signatures for adult-use marijuana amendment

The count is on: Responsible Growth submits 192,000 signatures for adult-use marijuana amendment



Responsible Growth Arkansas submitted more than 192,000 signatures to the secretary of state on Friday, the most significant step to-date to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas. 

Steve Lancaster, co-counsel for the industry-backed group, submitted the group’s paperwork at 11:10 a.m. at the secretary of state’s satellite office in a nondescript office park in Little Rock’s Riverdale neighborhood. 

Known as the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, Responsible Growth’s proposed measure would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over but would not allow consumers to grow their own plants. The measure would increase the number of cultivators from 8 to 20 and the number of dispensaries from 40 to 120. 

Recreational marijuana would be regulated by the state in much the same way as the current medical marijuana program, which was legalized when voters approved it with 53% in a 2016 statewide referendum. Under the adult-use proposal, the tax on medical marijuana will be eliminated and recreational marijuana will be taxed at the current medical marijuana tax rates. 

The tax revenue would go to support the state’s general revenues as well as health care research, drug courts and a stipend for law enforcement. 

Here’s a summary of the developments that led up to today’s petition drop-off. 

Lancaster, who drafted the amendment along with fellow attorney Erika Gee, said he is confident the group will have enough signatures to get on the ballot. 

Lancaster said he is also confident the group will be certified for the ballot by the Board of Election Commissioners and will be able to hold off any legal challenges. If it gets on the ballot, Lancaster feels sure it will pass. 

“I’m completely confident that it will pass,” Lancaster said. “Assuming we get to the ballot, and we’re confident on that, I think, come November, we’ll pass this thing,” Lancaster said. 

The signature-gathering process is difficult by design, Lancaster said, because the state wants to ensure the initiative process is “an above-board process.” But Lancaster admitted some changes to the process made it more difficult this time around. For instance, petition circulators had to be Arkansas residents this time and they could not be paid per signature as they had in the past, which Lancaster said were the group’s biggest challenges. 

Next steps 

Responsible Growth submitted more than double the 89,151 signatures required to get on the ballot and assistant director of elections Shantell McGraw said she believes it’s the most signatures that have ever been submitted. 

Lancaster said the 192,000 figure accounts for total signatures but declined to say how many of those signatures his group had internally verified. In May, Responsible Growth Chairman Eddie Armstrong said the group had more than 65,000 verified signatures

“We believe that the cushion that we have will have more than plenty to qualify,” Lancaster said. 

The next step is for the secretary of state’s office and its 20 temporary employees to make sense of all the petitions and then to start counting. The intake process will begin Tuesday and will take about a week then the counting will begin, McGraw said. By law, the office has 30 days to verify the signatures. 

Today’s submission of signatures also starts the clock running on the state Board of Election Commissioners, which must determine in the next 30 days whether or not to certify the amendment for the ballot. Daniel Shults, director of the state board, said last week that he expects the board to meet in the first week of August to make its decision.  

Responsible Growth’s campaign for the amendment will start in early fall, Armstrong said last month. Lancaster declined to say on Friday how much money his group might need to raise to pass the amendment, saying that was “ really not my area but I would hope that after everything we have invested thus far that we would run an aggressive, successful campaign.” 

Opposition 

Longtime Arkansas marijuana advocate Melissa Fults said Friday she and the Arkansas chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws will oppose Responsible Growth’s amendment. She said she knew of other groups that will oppose the measure as well but declined to name them. 

“Several lawsuits” are waiting to be filed, Fults said, as she raised questions about the substance of the amendment and the actions of canvassers. 

“If they do, God forbid, make it on the ballot, we will, from the moment they make the ballot to Election Day, educate the people in Arkansas.” 

Fults criticized the proposed amendment saying it only benefits a small group of people and that she disagrees with those who think it’s better to pass some form of legalization than nothing. 

“This is worse than nothing,” Fults said. “I’d rather have nothing than this crap that they just filed. It is greed on top of greed on top of greed.”