Nine states have legalization initiatives on the ballot this November, but only one state has two legalization initiatives. That would be Arkansas.
Both campaigns recently fought—and won—a legal challenge by a staunch anti-legalization coalition, Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana. One of the two measures, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, remains tied up in a lawsuit challenging the campaign’s signature gathering process.
Let’s assume both measures survive to go before the state’s voters. What happens if both measures pass?
Arkansas law is clear on one point: All things being equal, the ballot measure that receives the higher number of votes will become law. But here’s the thing. All things are not equal. One ballot measure (Issue 7) is an initiative, the other (Issue 6) is a state constitutional amendment.
In that case, it’s unclear whether the higher-vote-total rule takes effect, or whether the constitutional amendment takes precedence over a statewide initiative. If both measures gain favor with a majority of voters, it’s highly likely that a lawsuit could decide the ultimate outcome.
Now, let’s look at the chances of both measures passing.
In 2012, Arkansans for Compassionate Care had a medical cannabis measure on the ballot. It was narrowly defeated, with 48 percent in favor and 51 percent opposed.
In the years since, support for medical cannabis has followed distinctive upward trend. In 2012, a poll from Talk Business–Hendrix College showed just 38 percent of 868 likely voters supported the medical cannabis measure.
In 2014, the same poll showed that 45 percent of 1,000 likely Arkansas voters supported medical cannabis. The most recent poll conducted in June of this year found that 58 percent of 751 likely Arkansas voters said they would vote to support a measure to legalize medical marijuana. So statewide support for medical cannabis legalization has increased by 20 percent in just four years.
The same pollsters at Talk Business – Hendrix College also examined the divide in voters faced with the two competing measures. In September, the group polled 831 likely Arkansas voters and discovered that although the two measures are nearly identical (save for a clause allowing home cultivation), 49 percent of voters were in favor of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, while 36 percent were in favor of the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act.
Gov. Hutchison doesn’t hold veto power over a voter-approved ballot measure, however. So he may oppose it, but he can’t stop it if the voters approve the initiative. Or the amendment. Or both.
Television station KARK recently aired a 30-minute special titled “Medicine or Menace? A Medical Marijuana Forum” and hosted by Drew Petrimoulx.