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Arkansas Election Board Rejects Marijuana Legalization Measure

The election commissioners unanimously rejected — on the flimsiest of pretexts — the legalization initiative Wednesday

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Staci Vandagriff

It has the signatures, but it didn’t get past the bureaucrats. An Arkansas agency ruled against including a vote on adult-use marijuana on the ballot this November, reports 40/29 News.

The Arkansas Secretary of State’s office approved the measure last week. Secretary of State John Thurston said supporters had gathered enough signatures for the measure to make the ballot.

But the State Board of Election Commissioners was unmoved. The board unanimously rejected — on the flimsiest of pretexts — the initiative at its meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier Wednesday, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Jones came out in support of the ballot measure. It’s no surprise that Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, opposes the proposal. 

Even The Board Members Couldn’t Convincingly Explain Their Rejection

Board members claimed they rejected the proposal due to concerns that it didn’t inclde sufficient background checks for dispensary owners, or sufficient limits on THC in edbles, reports THV11.

The proposal would not require people who own less than 5 percent of a cultivation or dispensary to undergo a background check, reports KATV. But the supposed reasons for rejection were so weak, even the board members couldn’t convincingly explain them.

“It could be a group of them and every single person who owned it would be exempt and they could do that 18 times.  I know that won’t happen that much, but the potential is still there,” meandered Commissioner Bilenda Harris-Ritter.

“That limit on the edible is important because a potential negative is kids, you know, edibles kind of look like gummy bears,” babbled hapless Commissioner James Harmon Smith.

Under the proposal, medical Cannabis users would no longer have a limit of 10 mg per edible. But the 10 mg cap would still remain for adult recreational use.

“We Will Successfully Place This Issue Before The Voters Of Arkansas”

The denial by the board does not necessarily mean that the amendment will not be on the ballot. If supporters file a lawsuit, state law requires the Supreme Court to act quickly to review the issue.

Steve Lancaster, RGA’s legal counsel, said the group is already working on such a lawsuit, reports KARK. “There’s always a challenge,” Lancaster said. “It’s always going to get before the Arkansas Supreme Court. They’re going to decide this, so it’s not a surprise.”

“We believe that once our arguments are heard before a court of law, we will successfully place this issue before the voters of Arkansas on November 8,” said Lancaster. ”The amendment is sound, and we feel confident that will be the ruling of the courts.”

“We Think They Got It Wrong”

“We’re of course disappointed we think they got it wrong, the ballot proposal that we submitted the title clearly said what was happening and what would be the change,” said Lancaster, reports 5 News Online.

Lancaster said the the board’s criticism was unfair because it would require the ballot title going into an unwieldy amount of detail.

“The type of detail that the board expected, or demanded in this case, would make our ballot title thousands and thousands of words long,” Lancaster told reporters after the vote. “That just simply is not workable for a ballot,” he said, reports the Fayetteville Flyer.

RGA submitted more than 192,000 signatures in early July for the proposal. That more than doubled the 89,151 valid signatures needed. A total number of verified signatures has not yet been provided.

Measure Taxes Marijuana Sales At 10.5%

The initiative would have placed a state constitutional amendment on Arkansas ballots this November. If voters approved, it would have become legal under state law for people 21 or older to buy and possess up to one ounce of marijuana from licensed retailers.

The measure specifies a 10.5% tax rate for adult-use Cannabis sales, the same as for medical marijuana. Arkansas voters approved medical marijuana back in November 2016. The first dispensary in the state did not open until May 2019.

The constitutional amendment specifies the money raised from the tax would go to law enforcement, education, drug court, and the state’s general fund.

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