Three Little Rock mayoral candidates voice support for marijuana amendment

Fourth candidate says legalization is a state and federal issue

By: - October 11, 2022 8:41 am

From left, Incumbent Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., Glen Schwarz, Steve Landers Sr., and Greg Henderson field questions during a candidate forum held Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, in Little Rock. The Central Arkansas Library System, KUAR, and the League of Women Voters of Pulaski County hosted the forum in the Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock’s River Market district. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

Three candidates for Little Rock mayor, including incumbent Frank Scott Jr., expressed full-throated support Monday night for legalizing recreational use of marijuana in Arkansas.

The fourth mayoral hopeful, car dealer Steve Landers, voiced no opposition to the proposed state constitutional amendment while saying: “I will do what the people of the state of Arkansas decide to do.”

The four have debated for weeks in community forums over issues including policing, parks, public records, a canceled citywide festival and how best to grow the Capital city.

A rare moment of seemingly common ground in their seventh forum Monday night came over the recreational marijuana question, which will go before Arkansas voters Nov. 8 as constitutional amendment Issue 4. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has expressed his opposition to the measure.

“I am in full support of decriminalizing marijuana,” Scott told a crowd of about 200 at the Central Arkansas Library System’s Ron Robinson Theater.

Saying the proposed amendment “isn’t perfect,” Scott said he’s seen youths who “started with petty weed crimes,” then found it difficult to break their downward spiral in the legal system.

Food blogger and entrepreneur Greg Henderson agreed there are “problems” with the amendment that would create monopolies for growers and fail to give back enough to the community.

“But it’s a step forward,” Henderson said. “Vote for it now, try to change it” later.

Three-time Little Rock mayoral candidate Glen Schwarz said he’s been working to decriminalize marijuana use for 30 years and urged a vote for Issue 4.

While expressing no opposition, Landers declined to state his personal opinion on the legalization question. He said that’s “a state and federal issue,” even as he promised to support voters’ will.

Monday’s mayoral forum stretched almost 75 minutes, featuring opening and closing statements from each candidate and questions pitched to all four by moderator Michael Hibblen, news director at KUAR public radio. The event was sponsored by the library system, KUAR and the League of Women Voters of Pulaski County.

Other issues debated among the candidates Monday night included: the future of the city’s parks; last-minute cancellation of LITFest, a citywide festival of celebration; spiking crime in the city; and plans for economic growth.

As they have in previous forums, Scott and Landers traded barbs over crime and related issues.

“The mayor’s had four years to solve the crime problem and nothing has been done,” Landers said Monday. “Homicide and robberies are up.”

Steve Landers Sr.
(John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

Landers called for more police officers and went on to cite what he called a new FBI statistic showing Little Rock as the No. 1 “most dangerous city in America.”

He also defended his earlier call for more canines in the police department, saying they could help “de-escalate a problem rather than a police officer getting shot in the face.”

Scott responded that there “is no new FBI stat” and accused Landers of citing numbers from an invalid source.

“Steve doesn’t have a plan,” Scott said. “Steve said he wants to fund the Little Rock police department. This administration never jumped on the ‘Defund the Police’ movement. We have more officers than in the previous four years. We still need more, and we’ll continue to do that.

“When you use the word dogs, that’s a dog whistle,” Scott said. “We won’t stand for fear. We stand for progress, and we’re not going back as a city.”

Mayor Frank Scott Jr.
(John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

An enthusiastic crowd filled much of the 315-seat Riverfest area theater and responded with applause to comments from candidates in what the moderator called a “very spirited debate.”

In earlier forums, Scott has emphasized plans to bring more growth and economic development to the city, and pointed to progress made since his 2018 election.

Landers, who owns multiple car dealerships in Central Arkansas, has argued for more police officers along with changes in policing practices to lower violent crime in Little Rock.

Henderson has said he wants to strengthen ties between city residents with city government and police.

Schwarz, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2018, has said he wants to fight global warming and bring a space program to the area, along with legalizing marijuana use.

Among candidates’ statements about issues debated Monday night:


Monday night’s forum took place one day after the city was to have concluded an inaugural citywide party dubbed LITfest, which was to celebrate culture, art, business, music, tech and economic growth.

Set for last weekend (Oct. 7-9), the event was canceled four days before it was to start (Oct. 4) after city officials cited issues surrounding a $45,000 contract with Think Rubix LLC to publicize and help stage the festival.

Landers: “LITfest was a bad idea from the start…It was a political rally for our mayor…People who used to work for the mayor were going to get their pockets lined.”

Schwarz: “Riverfest failed about 10 years ago…LITfest probably wasn’t a criminal deal. Just like Riverfest, it’s hard to get a festival going.”

Henderson: “We have to see how to separate the ideas and the execution.”
Scott: “In 2022, we knew our city was yearning for a festival like Riverfest. Yes, it [LITfest] had to be canceled. It’s unfortunate…If you’ll give me another opportunity, I’ll bring it back.”


Candidates were asked about the city’s 63 parks and Landers’ earlier comments that suggested he might close some.

Henderson: “They are community gathering places, and they are an important part of this city. Just because you don’t know where they are,” he said, there’s no reason to shut them down. “We need to find ways to double-down on how we handle parks.”

Greg Henderson (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)`

Scott: “Every park is unique to its own community and neighborhood…This is not a business, it’s about creating quality of life…ensuring our children have something to do.”

Landers: “I never said I wanted to close a park. I said 63 parks are too many in the condition they are. We need to find the best and get them in the best condition.” He went on: “I’m for recreation for all people, pickleball, basketball, golf.”

Schwarz: “I want to reopen War Memorial Golf Course. You [Scott] did that [closing] within weeks of taking office.”

Economic growth

Candidates were asked how the city should move forward on addressing economic growth.

Schwarz: “We’ve got a city that can provide leadership in a variety of ways. Use nuclear power to replace coal power. There’s going to be tremendous growth in the marijuana industry.” If ocean levels rise, the population will move inland and Little Rock should be prepared for “exponential growth.”

Glen Schwarz
(John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

Henderson: He urged investment in existing small businesses, “not as sexy as bringing in 2,000 jobs.” These businesses “chose Little Rock, want to grow with Little Rock.”

Scott: He cited 8,000 new jobs since he was elected in 2018, though he acknowledged “some may challenge that number.” Little Rock, he said, is one of two midsize cities in the South that grew in the last census counts. “Job growth is essential to our administration…The best crime prevention is a job.”

Landers: “Little Rock has not had strong job growth since the mayor’s time in office. Those 8,000 are announced jobs. Real job growth is less than 18% of that number, 1,600 jobs.”

The Little Rock mayoral race is nonpartisan, meaning candidates aren’t chosen in party primaries and don’t represent political parties.
The contest is on the Nov. 8 ballot. A runoff, needed if no candidate gets more than 40% of votes, would be Dec. 6, according to Ballotpedia.



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Lisa Hammersly
Lisa Hammersly

Lisa Hammersly has been a reporter and editor for more than 40 years in Arkansas and North Carolina. She has reported on issues that include political corruption, campaign finance and the national collapse of the nation’s home lending system, working for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and The Charlotte Observer.