The Arkansas Supreme Court disqualified one of two medical marijuana initiatives a week before the election, and Arkansan voters are split on whether they’ll approve the remaining measure, Issue 6.
A new poll surveying support for Arkansas’ remaining medical marijuana initiative shows an extremely tight race with the election just days away. According to the Arkansas Poll, 51 percent of likely voters support the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, while 49 percent are opposed. A Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Survey conducted nearly a month ago also found support for the measure to be at 49 percent.
Up until a week ago, Arkansas voters were expecting to be presented with two medical marijuana ballot initiatives before the Arkansas Supreme Court disqualified one of the proposals. The court ruled that the sponsors of Issue 7, or the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, failed to obtain the necessary number of signatures to qualify the initiative. The measure proposed legalizing medical marijuana for 56 conditions and allowing patients that live far from dispensaries to cultivate cannabis at home.
Remaining for voters is Issue 6, also referred to as the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, which if passed will legalize medical marijuana for 17 qualifying conditions. Under the law, a Medical Marijuana Commission will be created and tax revenue from the program will go to workforce training, technique and vocational schools. Compared to Issue 7, the amendment offers a more limited medical cannabis program and no provision to allow home cultivation.
Because early voting has started and the ballots have been printed, both initiatives will be on the ballot when voters arrive on November 8. The campaign for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, has said it will continue to fight the court’s decision but is urging voters to vote yes for both initiatives.
“We will keep fighting [to] ensure that no patient faces arrest for using a safe and effective medicine, whether that protection comes from Issue 6 or Issue 7,” said Arkansans for Compassionate Care Deputy Director Ryan Denham.
For an initiative to qualify for the ballot, sponsors must submit valid signatures from 8 percent of the number of voters in the last general election, approximately 67,887 required signatures. While the campaign for Issue 7 originally submitted 117,547 signatures, the Secretary of State Mark Martin validated just 77,516 of them. After review, the court then ruled that roughly 12,104 were invalid, which left about 65,412 valid signatures, short of the required number for ballot qualification.
The ruling was handed down by Justice Karen R. Baker, who wrote that the “total number of signatures which should have been counted by respondent falls below the statutory minimum.”
Chief Justice Howard W. Brill wrote a dissent, arguing that the act should stay on the ballot.
“While the sponsor’s canvassers did make some errors in the signature-gathering process, I agree with the master’s findings that these errors are not a complete failure with regard to the sufficiency of the signatures on the petition,” Brill wrote.
Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe said he respects the court’s decision but felt disqualifying the ballot initiative 12 days before the vote could be disheartening to voters.
“It furthers this narrative that the government isn’t working for us and it undermines, in their minds, the process,” Bledsoe said.
Arkansas is one of nine states voting on marijuana-related initiatives. You can learn about the measures in the other eight states here. Read about the current cannabis laws in Arkansas by visiting our education page.