What’s going on in Arkansas?
News out of the Razorback state last week had Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge rejecting a seventh marijuana ballot initiative since taking office in 2014. As with her previous rejections, Rutledge said her latest denial was based on the “ambiguous language” of the proposal. David Couch, the attorney who submitted the most recent proposal, has had his two previous proposals rejected based on ambiguous language as well.
The Arkansans for Compassionate Care, or Arcompassion, has been working for years to try to get a medical marijuana initiative before voters. The campaign came within inches of success with Issue 5 in 2012, when it lost by a slim margin of 49 percent in favor to 51 percent against.
In 2014, Arcompassion came back with the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, a ballot initiative approved during the final days of former Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s term in 2014, before Rutledge took office.
When reached for comment, a spokesman for the office, Judd Deere, released the following statement to the media:
“Attorney General Rutledge states, 'neither certification nor rejection of a popular name and ballot title reflects my view of the merits of the proposal. This Office has been given no authority to consider the merits of any measure when considering the sufficiency of a proposed ballot title.'"
The Attorney General’s statement reflects an awareness that her office is coming under increasing scrutiny for rejecting multiple marijuana proposals during her brief time in office. But rejecting proposals based on ballot titles is nothing new in Arkansas, according to the advocates at Arcompassion.
Ryan Denham, the Deputy Director of Arkansans for Compassionate Care, isn’t surprised at the constant pushback from the AG’s office. His group endured extraordinary delays during its effort to get a signoff on Issue 5 in 2012.
“When we applied back in 2012, we weren’t approved either the first time,” Denham told Leafly. “We had to resubmit our initiative four times before it was approved on the fifth try. I think the Attorney General just wants to make sure the ballot title accurately reflects the law, especially when the bill is a dozen pages long.”
The current medical marijuana campaign has been gathering signatures in preparation for the 2016 ballot and will need to obtain 67,887 total signatures in the next six months in order to qualify, but Denham is hoping to exceed that number.
“We want to get 150 to 200 percent of the signatures that we need," he said. "We have approximately 55,000 signatures in hand right now and we want to gather another 40,000 before we turn them in.”
The Arkansans for Compassionate Care’s initiative, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, is the most likely bet for a medical marijuana bid in 2016. The campaign will hold a Super Tuesday Signature Surge on March 1st at locations around the state, so sign up as a volunteer if you want to see change for Arkansas this year.
“Arkansas has seen states like New York and Illinois legalize,” Denham said. “We’ve seen that the sky hasn’t fallen, terminally ill people are gaining access to medicine, and it’s generating tax revenue. Arkansas borders seven states, which have almost no cannabis laws… This is more than just a local or state issue, this is a national issue and we’re hoping that we can influence some of the more conservative states around us.”