An adult-use cannabis legalization measure in Arkansas is back on course for the November 2022 ballot—at least for now.
The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a formal order Aug. 10 to grant a preliminary injunction to allow Responsible Growth Arkansas’ constitutional amendment to appear on the statewide ballot this fall.
The formal order directs Secretary of State John Thurston to “conditionally certify petitioners’ proposed initiated amendment pending this court’s decision in this case,” meaning voters will have the opportunity to cast ballots on the amendment in the upcoming election. But the Supreme Court still has the authority to determine whether those votes will hold bearing on the legalization effort.
The Supreme Court’s motion on Wednesday is just the latest of twists and turns that often collide with cannabis advocates hoping to participate in a citizen initiative process. Since submitting petition signatures in July, Responsible Growth Arkansas’ path toward enacting reform has become a roller coaster.
The nuts and bolts of the group’s ballot proposal is to authorize adults 21 and older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis for personal use and to authorize the cultivation and sale of cannabis by licensed commercial facilities.
Former Arkansas state Rep. Eddie Armstrong III, a Democrat who served as minority leader during his statehouse tenure from 2013-2019, filed the initiative, the Arkansas Adult-Use Cannabis Amendment, in January 2022. He established Responsible Growth Arkansas to support it.
For the past four years, Armstrong has served as the CEO and chairman of Chicago-based Cannabis Capital Group, a medical cannabis consulting, investing and advisory firm.
Armstrong and his campaign organizers submitted more than 190,000 signatures July 8 to the secretary of state’s office for their petition: That’s more than double the roughly 89,000 valid signatures needed (or 10% of the votes cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election).
Less than a month later, on July 29, the secretary of state’s office announced that the group met the verified signature threshold.
But on Aug. 3, the state Board of Election Commissioners—chaired by Thurston—rejected the measure after they indicated they didn’t believe the ballot title fully explained to voters the impact of the constitutional amendment.
The next day, Responsible Growth Arkansas filed a lawsuit with the state’s Supreme Court to challenge the board’s decision. In that lawsuit, the group asked for a preliminary injunction ordering the measure to appear on the November ballot because “it’s unlikely” that the court will decide the case before the Aug. 25 deadline for the certification of the amendment to appear on the ballot.
The Supreme Court granted that preliminary injunction request on Wednesday, with the formal order establishing a timeline for Thurston, in his official government capacities, to file a response to the complaint by Aug. 16, and for Responsible Growth Arkansas committee members to file a response brief by Aug. 23. Another brief by Thurston’s office is due Aug. 30, and another petitioner reply brief is then due Sept. 2.
That all needs to happen before the Supreme Court justices hear the case to determine if the ballot language meets the requirements for a constitutional amendment.
To date, 19 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized adult-use cannabis, either by ballot initiative or legislation. Advocacy group NORML has generally been in support of those reforms.
However, Arkansas NORML Treasurer Melissa Fults opposes the Responsible Growth Arkansas 2022 initiative, ABC-affiliate KAIT reported in last month.
“Their [amendment] is horrible,” said Fults, whose group is collecting signatures for a 2024 ballot proposal.
Specifically, Fults took issue with Responsible Growth Arkansas’ amendment not including a provision for home cultivation.
“When you control the industry, you can set the prices to whatever you want to and make people pay it,” she told the news outlet. “It would also destroy the medical industry we worked so hard to build.”
Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is term-limited and can’t seek reelection this November, has also been a vocal opponent to the adult-use cannabis legalization campaign.
Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones, who is facing former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in this November’s race, issued a statement expressing firm support for adult-use cannabis legalization in the state.
“My stance on cannabis? Same as it has been—legalize and decriminalize it,” Jones said in a social media post last week. “Arkansans have a right to the ballot initiative process and should be able to have a say in whether or not recreational marijuana is approved in this state. The ballot initiative process is one of the few ways Arkansans get to have a seat at the table.”