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Arkansas Legalization Drive: Template For Red States?

Marketing requires adapting the message to the audience. So the legalization effort in Arkansas looks quite different

Griffin Coop / Arkansas Cannabiz

Arkansas is one of five states where voters next week will be deciding on adult-use marijuana legalization measures. No state in the deep red Deep South has yet legalized Cannabis.

Although Virginia is technically part of the South, as it’s below the Mason-Dixon Line, folks in the Southeast US think of Virginia as a border state. And Virginia’s purple-hued politics bear them out on this point.

By any measure, the Natural State is one of the most deeply conservative red states. But Issue 4 actually has a slight lead in the polls. That remains true, even after the usual pre-election tightening seems to be taking place.

Effective marketing requires adapting the message to the audience. To sell people on an idea, you have to meet them where they live. So of course, the legalization effort of Responsible Growth Arkansas looks quite different from those in more liberal, bluer states.

Red State Template: Emphasis On Funding Law Enforcement?

One of the most obvious ways this has shown itself in Arkansas is through the legalization campaign’s emphasis on funding law enforcement. With the national Republican Party pushing a narrative of out-of-control crime, plus the politically deep red shade of the Natural State, this may be a savvy decision. And if Issue 4 passes, Responsible Growth Arkansas may have created a template for legalization in Southern and other conservative states.

That really matters. While the early legalization triumphs were in liberal states, and therefore low-hanging fruit, as the movement expands into the heartland things get more challenging. But the legalization effort increasingly spans the political spectrum,, reports NPR. That’s why legalization is gaining support even in some of the most overwhelmingly Republican parts of the nation. 

Donald Trump carried three of the other four states besides Arkansas which are voting this year on legalization: Missouri North Dakota, and South Dakota. Only blue-leaning Maryland went Biden.

Red-Lining The Message

With just over a week until Election Day, RGA activists released new ads to solidify support as the campaign enters the last stretch.

The spots focus on the tax revenue from marijuana sales, funding for law enforcement and debunking false narratives from legalization opponents.

One new Responsible Growth ad features an Arkansas mother with her child, reports Marijuana Moment. The mother explains why she supports having a legal adult-use market for marijuana, with public safety and youth prevention protections.

Former Arkansas House minority leader Eddie Armstrong now heads Responsible Growth Arkansas, reports NPR. “It brings for us opportunities to support our law enforcement and support cancer research accreditation in the state of Arkansas. So it’s a good thing for the state to move in this direction,” he says.

Medical Marijuana Passed In 2016

Campaigners know that it’s possible to get a pro-marijuana voter from Arkansas’ conservative-leaning voters. They proved that back in 2016, when medical marijuana passed statewide.

Issue 4 would make a number of changes to Amendment 98, also known as the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, reports Action News 5. These changes would add the growing and selling of adult-use marijuana to the existing medical marijuana program.

Arkansans over the age of 21 would be able to buy and possess up to 1 ounce of Cannabis at a time from a dispensary. Those with medical licenses can do the same and not have that 1 ounce taken off their two-week, 2.5-ounce allowance from the medicinal program.

Current Medical Dispensaries Get Adult-Use Licenses

The current medical-only industry would be expanded from eight cultivators to 20 for adult-use marijuana. It would expand from 40 dispensaries to 80 across the Natural State. The additional 40 licenses would be issued via a lottery system.

The cultivators and dispensaries already been in business under the state’s medical program will receive new licenses allowing the cultivation and sales of adult-use marijuana.

They could then begin selling recreational cannabis after March 8, 2023.

Residency Requirement Removed

Up until this point, there’s been a residency requirement for owners of cultivation facilities and dispensaries. That requirement would be removed under Issue 4.

RGA says this expansion of the industry will promote healthy competition in the marijuana marketplace. But those opposing I Issue 4 say the lack of a residency requirement will allow large, out-of-state marijuana corporations to control the market.

“This is going to be a monopoly,” said Luke McCoy with the Family Council Action Committee (FCAC). “There’s not going to be competition among dispensaries and cultivators, which is going to cause the price to increase.”

McCoy is part of a FCAC grass-roots effort to spread information about Issue 4. The group claims it is bad policy in part because of the lack of THC caps on cannabis products. Issue 4 would remove a THC cap of 10mg on cannabis-infused food and drinks.

It’s Gonna Be Close

By almost all accounts, Arkansas’ legalization vote could be quite close.

High-profile opponents include current governor, Republican Asa Hutchinson. Also opposing legalization is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and his daughter Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Sarah, who once lied on the regular for the Trump Administration, is expected to win the office her dad once held for a decade.

Her Democratic opponent for Arkansas Governor, Chris Jones, supports legalization.

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