LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — While the political fights are intense in Washington D.C. and on the campaign trail, perhaps the biggest political debate of the year in Arkansas is just getting started.
Two groups on parallel paths are collecting signatures to get constitutional amendments to legalize recreational marijuana use on the November ballot.
“It’s getting more awareness out, having two, but it’s also confusing people, having two,” Laree Treece said. “They don’t remember which one they’ve signed.”
Treece is a volunteer with Arkansans for Cannabis Reform. It has a petition circulating for the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment. She and the same group of activists also led campaigns for medical marijuana use in 2012 and 2016.
“It’s a lot different,” she said of this effort. “People are more receptive now than they were in 2011. I think they are more educated now than they were.”
While Arkansans may be more familiar with the arguments for and against marijuana, the new concern is educating voters about the difference between the two proposals.
Arkansas True Grass authored the Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Amendment.
Both proposals allow adults aged 21 and over to consume cannabis products.
The AAUCA is the more restrictive of the two plans. It would allow 12 cultivation facilities across the state, while mandating at least one retail location in each county and at least 30 in each of the state’s four congressional districts.
It would allow people to possess four ounces of cannabis flower, and to have six plants and six seedlings for personal use.
The ARMA would set no limits on the number of cultivators or retailers that could receive licenses and would set the fee for a cultivation license at $500 per year.
It would restrict Arkansans to purchasing four ounces of smokable or vaporizable marijuana per day. They would be allowed to own 12 cannabis plants and an unlimited number of seedlings.
Non-residents would be able to purchase one ounce of smokable or vaporizable marijuana per day and up to 72 ounces of edibles per day.
The ARMA would also call for the expungement of criminal records of all Arkansans who were convicted of marijuana-related offenses if no other crime was involved, while Arkansans for Cannabis Reform plan to support other, third-party expungement campaigns.
Treece said Arkansans for Cannabis Reform was born out of members’ dissatisfaction with the state’s medical marijuana program; specifically, the refusal by state leaders to add more conditions to the list of qualifying conditions.
One legislative hearing in particular frustrated Treece. “We had several volunteers come up,” she recalled. “One cancer patient was begging to have COPD added, and they looked at us like we were three-headed giants and would not even listen to us. So, they gave us no choice but to do recreational.”
She said canvassers have received a positive response from the community, and that the average supporter is not the stereotypical, young stoner. “It’s your grandmother who has bipolar disorder, who is tired of taking medications that are killing her body, and she wants a choice,” Treece stated. “And her doctors aren’t letting her have the choice.”
A group of politicians, medical experts, and conservative leaders announced their opposition to recreational marijuana use a week ago, saying it would negatively affect public health. “They know that we’re gaining momentum, and I think we’re scaring them again,” Treece countered.
Both groups claim to have more recorded than 10,000 signatures so far. They need to submit at least 89,151 valid signatures by July 3 to make the November ballot.
“It’s an uphill battle, because it is recreational,” Treece admitted. “And a lot of people say, ‘well, we thought you were just for medical.’ But they won’t add more conditions, so they give us no choice. And, I think we’ll do it. And it’ll be fun!”
Bill Barger, a spokesman for Arkansas True Grass, told us on Tuesday that its polls show 60-percent of Arkansans support the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Author: David Lippman, TEGNA