Arkansas: A Legalization Effort Faces an Uphill Climb

Arkansas

Supporters of cannabis law reform in Arkansas are trying to make it the first state in the South to legalize for adult use. But without enough funding, the initiative faces an uphill battle to reach the ballot. 

Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, an initiative led by the Drug Policy Education Group, a local not-for-profit focused on drug policy reform, has been gathering signatures for two separate Arkansas cannabis petitions—one for adult use legalization and one for expungement of certain cannabis convictions.

So far, each petition has only reported about 10,000 signatures. To qualify for the ballot in Arkansas, the petitions, both of which call for constitutional amendments, require close to 90,000 signatures. 

More are coming, organizers insist. “We’re going to have to have paid canvassers,” Melissa Fults, executive director of Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, told Cannabis Wire. “Our volunteers are wonderful, but I don’t know that they can reach that goal in the timeframe that we have and still do their regular jobs.” 

Still, the initiative only had $10,000 in funding as of last month. Its leaders are engaging cannabis businesses, both within and outside the state, to raise money, Fults said. 

The Marijuana Policy Project endorsed the initiative in Arkansas but is not dedicating staff time or funding to it. “If we are going to invest a large amount of resources, we need to be sure that there are chances of passing,” Jared Moffat, a campaign coordinator with MPP, told Cannabis Wire

The odds are tilted a bit against Southern states at the moment, Moffat said. “Not to say it can’t happen, but it’s going to be a challenge.” 

Fults expects no support from the state’s lawmakers when it comes to the initiative. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson joined an opposition campaign, which was started by state senator Cecile Bledsoe in September, urging Arkansas voters to not sign the petitions. 

Hutchinson’s office did not respond to Cannabis Wire’s request for comment. 

Arkansas legalized medical cannabis in 2016, and sales went live last May. The Arkansans for Cannabis Reform initiative started when Fults’ group tried to engage lawmakers in the 2019 legislative session to expand the medical cannabis program, but wasn’t successful.  

The state’s medical program only allows for forty dispensaries and a limited number of approved medical conditions, making it difficult for some patients to access medical cannabis. 

“When we went to the legislature this last session and they refused to do anything to help patients, we were like, ‘Okay, fine, we’ll just do recreational and then everybody over 21 can use cannabis, and you all can’t do a thing about it,’” Fults said. 

The legalization initiative seeks to have at least one dispensary per county and 30 dispensaries per district.   

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