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Campaign for recreational marijuana in Arkansas breaks fundraising records; polls show cracks

By: - November 3, 2022 4:45 pm
An employee of a cannabis store speaks to people as they wait in line with menu boards on April 21, 2022, the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales in New Jersey. Voters approved the issue in 2020. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

An employee of a cannabis store speaks to people as they wait in line with menu boards on April 21, 2022, the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales in New Jersey. Voters approved the issue in 2020. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

*This story has been updated with comments from the director of the Arkansas Poll. 

The campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas is already the most expensive ballot initiative in Arkansas history.

The sponsor of Issue 4, Responsible Growth Arkansas, reported Tuesday nearly $12.4 million in spending to pass the constitutional amendment.

Even with a week until Election Day, that was millions more than any ballot-initiative campaign had reported in the past, an Advocate analysis of public campaign finance data found.

The next-highest spender was the campaign to legalize casinos in the state in 2018. A pair of ballot-question committees spent roughly $9.7 million on that successful constitutional amendment that permitted new casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties as well as the expansion of race tracks at Oaklawn and Southland into full-fledged casinos.

Responsible Growth has also faced a well-financed opposition group. While less than a fifth of the pro-cannabis group's haul, Safe and Secure Communities has raised $2.3 million and spent $2.2 million to oppose Issue 4.

That's the fourth most ever spent on one side of a ballot issue, and the most ever spent in opposition to an initiative. The next most was the $1.8 million spent to defeat a proposal to allow alcohol sales statewide in 2014.

RELATED: The 60% question: Is Issue 4 Arkansas’ last shot at recreational marijuana?

Donors

Responsible Growth's money has come almost entirely from the the existing medical marijuana industry, which stands to benefit greatly from the market structure contemplated by Issue 4.

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.

Of the $8 million raised by the group in the period covered in the pre-election report due Tuesday, just $900 came from outside the cannabis industry.

Several Arkansas medical marijuana companies that grow and sell the drug have each donated $1 million or more to Responsible Growth.

The group has spent the bulk of its money on the ads that have blanketed the state on television, radio and online in recent weeks.

Safe and Secure Communities has received most of its money from wealthy conservatives. Ronald Cameron, CEO of Arkansas-based Mountaire Farms, one of the country's largest poultry companies, has contributed $1.25 million.

The anti-cannabis group also received $750,000 from Billionaire Richard Uihlein, founder of shipping and business supply company Uline and a frequent donor to conservative causes.

Safe and Secure Communities has also spent most of its funds on advertising.

Polling

Despite Responsible Growth's record spending, public polling trends have not been favorable.

When Talk Business and Politics first polled the issue in September, it found 58% of 834 likely voters supported Issue 4.

Talk Business’ most recent poll in mid-October showed the margin has slimmed considerably, with 50.5% of the 974 likely voters surveyed in favor of Issue 4.

The Arkansas Poll, released annually by the University of Arkansas Political Science Department, found only 41% support for Issue 4 among the 801 Arkansans it interviewed by phone during the second half of October.

U of A Political Science Prof. Janine Parry, director of the Arkansas Poll, said she believed the poor support for Issue 4 found by the poll was reflective of broader concerns portions of the electorate have with the proposal.

"I’ve been polling this issue in some way for 20 years and suspect support for adult use marijuana in some form is probably 55% or so of voters," Parry said in an email. "But the combo of conservatives AND liberals (for assorted reasons we’ve all seen circulating in recent weeks) will defeat this particular version."

However, she also noted: "All that said, polls aren’t elections."

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Hunter Field
Hunter Field

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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