LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Advocates will deliver paperwork to the Arkansas Secretary of State proposing legal recreational marijuana and clearing prior criminal records for the drug.
The pair of signature drives are led by supporters who have made three previous attempts to amend the state constitution.
“It does a lot of things. It allows ‘home grow.’ It allows an expansion of the dispensaries,” said Melissa Fults, executive director of Drug Policy Education Group.
Those dispensaries are already selling medical marijuana, thanks to the 2016 election. That's when Fults saw her last marijuana proposal get stopped by the state supreme court. Critics blamed the idea of growing pot at home for the defeat of what was known as Issue 7 that year. She's bringing it back, but this time she's recruiting allies.
“Sixty percent of the tax dollars go for pre-k and after-school programs,” she said. “Forty percent goes to U.A.M.S.”
Fults says she hasn’t spoken to anyone in the administration at Arkansas’ teaching hospital but has had a conversation with some school districts about how the tax proceeds would be spent. There's also a second proposal that would clear old marijuana convictions. That idea has derailed efforts elsewhere, but Fults says it serves a practical purpose.
“It will free up the jails to actually put real criminals in the jails rather than people using a plant,” she said.
The drive will have to navigate a new governmental process to get on the ballot. Secretary of State John Thurston will file the proposals and allow the advocacy group to gather the required number of signatures.
In the past, the attorney general would have to sign off on the language in the proposal and render a legal opinion on whether it should go before voters. After a law change in the 2019 legislative session, a commission will now decide on validity of the signatures and the constitutionality of the proposal.
“You spend all that money to get the signatures. You get your signatures checked. Then it goes to a commission that is appointed by the governor and legislators,” Fults said. “That’s before it even goes to the Supreme Court.”
But after four tries, she thinks the people are ready along with enough people in power.
“I think that people are so furious with the state government,” she said referring to the long time it took to roll out medical marijuana in the state. “When it took two-and-a-half years to get this program up and running? It was ridiculous. It should have been up in six months.”
Fults hopes to get her first signature August 1 and says financial backers are ready to come on board once they see the process get started. They have a goal of getting enough signatures within six months, allowing enough time for the expected legal challenges.