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Arkansas Supreme Court moves closer to decision on recreational marijuana petition

The question of recreational marijuana's legality is already printed on the ballot, but it's up to the court to decide if the vote will count in November.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Update: John Thurston, the Arkansas Secretary of the State, declared the proposed recreational marijuana ballot measure insufficient due to the state's board of election commissioners not certifying the ballot title and popular name. The declaration was sent to the attorney general's office on Tuesday, according to Kevin Niehaus, a spokesman for the secretary of state.

An official decision from the Arkansas Supreme Court has not been made at this time. 

A decision made on Monday by the Arkansas Supreme Court has been pushing the issue of recreational marijuana's legality one step closer to a vote.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ordered for recreational marijuana to conditionally be on the upcoming ballot, but before they make their final decision the court wants more information from the Secretary of State.

After Responsible Growth Arkansas received the necessary amount of signatures for the ballot vote, the measure was denied certification by the state Board of Election Commissioners on Aug. 3. Officials pointed to the measure's full title as not having "sufficient background checks for dispensary owners or THC limits," as the reason behind its denial.

The group then filed a lawsuit after the measure's denial, and said that the state Board of Election Commissioners made an "incorrect denial" as it prevents "hundreds of thousands of Arkansans to have the opportunity to vote on the Amendment."

The decision of if the vote should count or not is in the hands of the Arkansas Supreme Court. On Monday, the court reported that before their final ruling, the Secretary of State will have to decide whether or not to certify the petition's title and hand in that decision by Wednesday afternoon.

It's been back and forth for the recreational marijuana measure after more than 192,000 signatures were submitted in early July by Responsible Growth Arkansas. This number of signatures was more than double the 89,151 signatures that were needed.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson voiced his opposition online on Friday to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Arkansas. 

The governor shared that he will be voting no against the issue, and noted "the science" behind the usage. 

"The science is clear. Recreational marijuana leads to increased drug use among minors & more dangerous roadways. This November, I’m voting NO on Issue 4 to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas," Gov. Hutchinson said online.

But that tweet is just his personal vote as an Arkansan, not legislatively as Governor.

Pulaski County Elections Coordinator Amanda Dickens explained, "if that issue does pass... it will go into effect. And I don't believe that there's anything that any elected official would be able to do at that point," she said.

But with election day just about two months away, the thousands of ballots Arkansans will use to cast their vote have already headed to the printer. So while the question of recreational marijuana's legality is already printed in black and white; whether or not your vote on this issue will actually count, is up to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

"We can't physically take it back off the ballot since those have already been approved and sent to the printer. We would just actually hide the race on the results... We would then be required to post it all the locations, all the polling locations that issue number four would not be counted," Dickens explained.

Medical marijuana is currently legal in Arkansas and has been available since 2019. 

Scott Hardin with the Medical Marijuana Commission said medicinal use of the drug brings in millions of state tax dollars

"Since the industry launched in mid-2019, we've collected about $78 million..." Hardin said.

Steve Lancaster, a lawyer with Responsible Growth Arkansas said this will leave the final ruling on if the vote to legalize recreational marijuana will count or not come anytime after the Secretary of State sends in his decision Wednesday.

"We think once the Secretary of State provides that proof to the court, then they'll be ready to make their determination...this was interesting, but I don't think that it's a huge issue. The main event is still to come." Lancaster explained.

If the vote counts and if it passes, "Everyone that currently has a license now under the medical side, would have an additional recreational license issued by March of next year," Hardin explained.

Below is a sample ballot that Pulaski County voters will see this November with the full title on Issue 4 on page 2

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