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Arkansas Issue 4: Fact-checking ads on legalizing recreational marijuana

Arkansas voters will decide whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. 5NEWS fact-checked some of the claims in widely circulated ads.

ARKANSAS, USA — Since late August, several ads have been for and against the legalization of recreational marijuana in Arkansas. Some claim it will help the state and fund law enforcement, while others claim it will hurt the state and our children. 

There are two groups putting out these ads, Responsible Growth Arkansas and Safe and Secure Communities.

Safe and Secure Communities (SSC) encourages voters to vote no on Issue 4. According to the Arkansas Ethics Commission filings, Micahel McCauley of Downers Grove, Ill. is behind the group.

So far, SSC has raised more than $2 million. Significant contributors to this include Ronald Cameron of Little Rock, Ark., and Richard Uihlein of Ill. who gave at least a million dollars each.

Responsible Growth Arkansas (RGA) was the group that fought for the issue to get on the ballot. Eddie Armstrong of Little Rock is behind it.

More than $13 million have been raised. All but one of their donors are medical dispensaries or growing facilities. Two of those dispensaries raised $1 million dollars.

In an ad, SSC says, "Youth drug use has skyrocketed.”

SSC cites a 2021 report from Rocky Mountian High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a program established by the White House in 1996 under the Department of Justice. It studies Colorado and other states after legalization.

The report they cite did show a slight increase in use for ages 12 and up once legalized in Colorado, however, that includes adults.

That same study shows that marijuana use in ages 12 to 17 actually dropped once legalized in Colorado.

"In states that have legalized marijuana, marijuana traffic deaths have doubled," SSC said in the same commercial, citing the same 2021 report with data from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Deadly traffic deaths increased by 3% after legalization there.

“We are creating a well-regulated industry that is subject to government oversight by Arkansas government officials," said Eddie Armstrong RGA. "Just like any other industry.”

In the ad above, Responsible Growth Arkansas says “Issue 4 would create millions of dollars in new funding to local police.”

The bill states that if passed, consumers would pay an additional 10% tax on marijuana. Part of that is detailed to go for a stipend to law enforcement officers.

A study by the Arkansas Economic Development Institute shows over a five-year period, $45 million of that tax would go to law enforcement stipends.

RELATED: Issue 4: What legalizing recreational marijuana in Arkansas would mean

It is also important to note that one of Responsible Growth Arkansas’ ads received a cease and desist letter from the Little Rock Police Department. The department said, "Unfortunately, at least one of the advertisements has portions which show Little Rock police officers. Neither the City, nor the Little Rock Police Department has endorsed this effort. The film footage being used is from training films that were created to attract persons to join the police force. The Department has received inquiries as to why it is supporting this constitutional amendment when, in fact, it is not.”

In response, RGA gave the following statement:

“Our legal counsel has been in conversation with the city of Little Rock about that. That’s not something I can specifically speak to,” Armstrong said. “Workers from behind the scenes from of commercials take a lot of tedious time to make certain we’re not using anybody’s likeliness badges or operation unauthorized.”

Responsible Growth Arkansas has since taken the ad off its website.

Another claim is more jobs will come to the state if passed:

In the ad above, Responsible Growth Arkansas says, “Issue 4 will safely legalize cannabis for adults. That will create thousands of jobs.”

According to a study by the Arkansas Economic Development Institute, Issue 4 would quote “Increase in employment ranging from 4,900 jobs in 2023 to 6,400 jobs in 2027”

For our full coverage of Issue 4:

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