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Arkansas Puts Medical Cannabis on the November Ballot

Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin confirmed today that Arkansans for Compassionate Care submitted 77,516 valid signatures, nearly 10,000 more signatures than the 67,887 needed in order to qualify for a spot on the ballot. Martin’s OK means state voters will give medical marijuana legalization an up-or-down vote in November. 

Now comes the work of conciliation. 

With their initial goal achieved, Arkansans for Compassionate Care have asked David Couch, the Little Rock attorney leading a rival MMJ effort, to halt his effort and join their campaign. 

Ryan Denham, Deputy Director of Arkansans for Compassionate Care, told Leafly why his group feels it’s important for the two medical marijuana campaigns join forces. 

“We’re urging David Couch and Jason Polk to withdraw their initiative and join us, because if we have both of these initiatives on the ballot, they will both fail,” Denham said earlier today. “It will split the vote just enough so they will both fail and it’ll confuse voters, so it’s really important that he withdraws his campaign and we work together to pass medical cannabis here in Arkansas.”

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Leafly’s calls and emails to Couch’s office weren’t immediately returned. 

With the measure’s approval today, Denham said he’s excited to begin the next phase of the campaign. “Today really starts the kickoff of the campaign,” he said. “We’ve had 1,600 people sign up to volunteer with our campaign, so now we’re ready to put those folks to work by educating voters, registering voters, and getting out the vote.” 

He stressed the importance of registering as many voters as possible, using the lessons learned from their 2012 campaign, which failed by a slim margin. “It’s really important to us to register as many people to vote as possible,” he said. “When we attempted this in 2012, we were narrowly defeated by less than two percentage points.” 

Reflecting on the 2012 defeat, Denham noted some of the changes the group has made to improve the new initiative. “One of the most important changes was the affordability clause,” he said. “We have a provision that allows low-income patients to get discounted prices for cannabis that would be entirely paid for by the program.” 

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That clause sets the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act apart from most other medical marijuana programs around the country. It’s almost unheard of to have states subsidize medical cannabis. Massachusetts is one of the only medical states that makes an exception for economic hardship. 

Denham emphasized the importance of the support system for Arkansas patients. “Arkansas is actually one of the poorest states in the nation, so helping out low-income patients is really important to us.”

It’s been a long road to the 2016 ballot for Denham and his group. They began collecting signatures for the approved initiative in 2014, two years after their narrow defeat in 2012. Now their hard work seems to be finally paying off. 

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