Ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas fails

Voters reject measure described as ‘heavy’ handout to existing medical marijuana industry

By: - November 8, 2022 11:58 pm

Arkansas voters on Tuesday rejected Issue 4, the proposed constitutional amendment that would’ve legalized recreational marijuana for those 21 and older. (Getty Images)

This story was updated at 2:15 p.m, Nov. 9, to reflect the latest vote totals from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s website.

The proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas was rejected by voters on Tuesday after an opposition campaign from social conservatives and some cannabis proponents who disliked the strictness of Issue 4.

The constitutional amendment, in addition to legalizing cannabis for adult use, would’ve given most of the lucrative growing and selling licenses to existing medical marijuana businesses in the state.

Issue 4 would have continued to outlaw residential growing marijuana plants, and the amendment also didn’t include any provisions to expunge past marijuana offenses.

Those components frustrated many longtime cannabis proponents.

What would the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment do?

  • Allow those 21 or older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use, beginning March 8.
  • Issue eight “Tier 1” cultivation licenses to the existing medical marijuana cultivators in Arkansas.
  • Issue 12 “Tier 2” cultivation licenses, which would be allowed to grow no more than 250 mature plants at a time.
  • Issue 120 adult use dispensary licenses. The first 80 licenses would be granted to the current 40 medical marijuana dispensaries.

The amendment also would have required allotments of the tax revenue from marijuana sales to go to law enforcement stipends, support for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, funding for drug courts and state general revenue.

The Associated Press called the race at 11:25 p.m.

Unofficial results with 72 of 74 counties reporting, according to the Secretary of State’s website, were:

Against — 499,843 (56.3%)

For — 388,574 (43.7%)

Arkansas was one of five states voting on marijuana legalization on Tuesday, and it would’ve become the 20th state in the U.S. to legalize the drug for adult use.

 

 

Responsible Growth Arkansas, the industry-backed sponsor of Issue 4, shattered fundraising records for a ballot initiative campaign, spending more than $12 million on mostly television and radio commercials.

A Responsible Growth spokesman couldn't be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Jerry Cox, director of the Family Council Action Committee, which opposed Issue 4, credited a bipartisan coalition for defeating the measure.

“This is a stunning victory for Arkansas," Cox said in a statement. "Supporters of Issue 4 spent more than $13 million placing it on the ballot and trying to persuade voters to support it. Arkansans knew better than to go along with that. This was a true ‘David and Goliath’ fight and David won.”

Some of the cannabis proponents who campaigned against Issue 4 have promised to offer a more liberal recreational marijuana amendment in 2024. David Couch, the Little Rock attorney who drafted the amendment that legalized medical marijuana in 2016, said he planned to help draft an amendment for 2024 that would allow home grow and include expungement measures.

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Hunter Field, Arkansas Advocate
Hunter Field, Arkansas Advocate

Hunter Field is a veteran Arkansas journalist whose reporting on the state has carried him from military air strips in northwest Arkansas to soybean fields in the Arkansas delta. He spent the better part of the last decade investigating and reporting on Arkansas government and politics. For three years, he covered education policy, medical marijuana and the Arkansas General Assembly as part of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Capitol Bureau. Most recently, he was the Democrat-Gazette's projects editor, leading the newspaper's investigative team. Hunter got his start in journalism covering sports for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. A Memphis native, he enjoys smoking barbecue, kayaking and fishing in his free time.

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