Arkansas advocate pulls recreational cannabis amendment petition, will try again in 2024

Arkansas medical marijuana patient advocate Melissa Fults has scrapped her recreational cannabis amendment petition in favor of waiting until 2024 and advocating against another recreational proposal in the meantime.

Fults filed the Arkansas Adult Use and Expungement Marijuana Amendment in November. In an interview last month, she said she wanted to focus her efforts on working against the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, which is backed by a ballot question committee funded largely by existing medical marijuana cultivators.

“We’ve been working so hard trying to stop the cultivators,” she said. “You can’t fight on that many fronts.”

She has said she believes that amendment would allow large cultivators to profit while squeezing out the competition and jeopardize the medical program, and criticized it for not including an expungement provision for people with marijuana-related charges on their records. She has a lot of volunteers prepared to oppose it, she said.

Fults’ amendment would also allow for a number of cannabis businesses proportional to the state’s population, while the amendment backed by Responsible Growth Arkansas would first award cultivation and dispensary licenses to existing businesses.

Petitions must gather 89,151 signatures, or 10% of the total votes cast for governor in the 2018 general election, by July 8 to qualify for the November ballot. Fults said she didn’t feel she had sufficient time to get enough signatures before the deadline.

She added that the 2024 ballot includes the presidential election, which typically brings higher voter turnout.

Responsible Growth Arkansas chairman Eddie Armstrong said criticism of the amendment is just encouragement to work harder. He said the amendment would help patients by lowering prices while meeting demand, and that the amendment was developed by bringing industry groups and government leaders to the table.

“The industry is a new industry, so there are lots of bumps and bruises along the way when you’re building something new,” Armstrong said.

He said the effort has gathered more than 50,000 valid signatures.

A spokeswoman for a third recreational marijuana effort, Arkansas True Grass, said it was likely that Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Amendment of 2022 would also be pushed back to 2024. That amendment would not cap the number of marijuana businesses and automatically release people who are incarcerated solely because of a marijuana-related charge.

Briana Boling said Wednesday that the group would make a call by the end of the month and cited the difficulty of gathering signatures with a solely volunteer-driven effort. She said the group had gathered about half of the signatures needed.

“So that’s pretty good for a volunteer effort,” she said.

She added that the group had plans for a more organized effort in 2024, which include keeping up with the volunteer database and having monthly meetings and training sessions.

Meanwhile, Responsible Growth Arkansas has raised more than $1.82 million and spent nearly $630,000 toward promoting the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, according to a report filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission last month.

Arkansas voters approved Amendment 98, which created the state’s medical marijuana program, in 2016. The first dispensaries in the state opened in 2019; there are now 38 in operation.

A poll from Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College published Feb. 15 showed majority support among Arkansas voters for broadening the legalization of marijuana. About 53% of 961 likely voters surveyed said marijuana should be legal for all adults 21 and older.

Currently, a simple public majority is required for approval of proposed constitutional amendments and initiated acts, but a proposal from the Legislature set to be on the ballot in November would raise that threshold to 60% if it is approved.

Since 2019, patients have spent more than $639 million to obtain 98,793 pounds of medical cannabis, according to state Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin.

Medical marijuana patients spent $24 million at dispensaries in April, obtaining 4,213 pounds of cannabis. On average, patients are spending $22.45 million each month across the state’s 38 dispensaries to purchase approximately 3,919 pounds, according to DFA.

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