Proponents of recreational marijuana amendment appeal rejection of ballot title to Arkansas Supreme Court

Arkansas officials representing Responsible Growth Arkansas appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The appeal sought to overturn a decision of the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners which would have kept a proposed constitutional amendment legalizing recreational cannabis off the November ballot.

Steve Lancaster, Responsible Growth Arkansas’ counsel, stated in a Friday news release that the organization had filed a petition to the highest court of the state to overturn the earlier decision by the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners.

Wednesday’s commissioners unanimously rejected the popular name for the constitutional amendment and the ballot title. They stated that the measure did not specify whether there would be a THC limit on edibles.

“After nearly 200,000 Arkansans signed Responsible Growth Arkansas’ petition, the State Board of Election Commissioners incorrectly rejected the ballot title and thus thwarted the will of the people and their freedom to adopt laws by initiative,”Lancaster stated in the release. “The power to adopt laws by initiative lies at the heart of our democratic institutions. That power must be respected. The Court should correct the Board’s error and let the people decide.”

Responsible Growth Arkansas petitions for a preliminary injunction. The Aug. 25 deadline to certify initiated measures is pressing. It asks the court for John Thurston, Arkansas secretary of state, conditionally to certify the petitioners’ proposed initiated amend until the court makes its decision.

“It is unlikely that this Court will be able to decide this action before that deadline,”The petition states. “Petitioners therefore ask the Court to issue an expedited briefing schedule, to expedite its consideration of this action, and to issue a preliminary injunction requiring Secretary Thurston to certify the Amendment provisionally by the August 25 deadline.”

The proposed constitutional amendment would grant adult-use cannabis cultivation licenses and dispensary licenses for businesses that currently hold licenses under the state’s medical marijuana program. This would be followed by 40 additional licenses selected by a lottery.

Bilenda Harris Ritter, a member of the Board of Election Commissions, moved to deny the popular name and ballot title for the amendment. This was partly because it would remove the current THC limits without explaining whether a new limit would have been set.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana.

“I know they can’t put every single thing in here, but I think that is significant enough,”She said.

Lancaster argued the Board of Election Commissioners does not have the authority to judge the amendment, but rather to examine whether the ballot title is misleading or missing information that could affect a voter’s mind.

Lancaster also stated that the ballot title clearly explains that although the THC limit will be repealed the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division (ABC) will be responsible for creating new rules. These rules will include requirements for child-proof packaging as well as restrictions on advertising that appeals children. He stated that the THC limit was not repealed, but that it doesn’t mean that the limit is gone. He also argued the ballot title explains how the rules will be determined by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division.

State law requires that the ballot title and popular names be certified in order for a proposal to be on the general election ballot. The secretary of state must also certify that the sponsor has submitted the required number valid signatures from registered voters to petitions.

Petitioners claimed that they submitted 192 828 signatures in July to qualify the measure for the general elections ballot. This is more than twice what was required.

After the number of signatures received by signature counters exceeded 90,000 last week, the secretary of State approved the measure.

Lancaster stated in the petition that supporters of this amendment have a reasonable chance of success in court due to the fact that the Board of Election Commissioners failed to correctly apply the standards of the state Supreme Court for sufficiency of popular name and ballot titles.

Lancaster argues that the petition shows that the board improperly expanded its authority over the ballot titles under Amendment 7 and thus unduly limited the right to initiative.

“The Board ignores the ‘most significant rule in determining the sufficiency of the title,’ which ‘is that it be given a liberal construction and interpretation in order that it secures the purposes of reserving to the people the right to adopt, reject, approve, or disapprove’ the amendment,”The petition states.

Lancaster claimed that the board applied an excessively stringent standard, which ignored this court’s precedent. A ballot title does not have to include every detail, term or definition, nor how the proposed measure might work.

The initiative restricts sales of cannabis to adults 21 and older. It also prohibits advertising and packaging intended to appeal to children. It regulates the licensing of licensed businesses and does not permit homegrown cannabis.

It also limits the number and types of cannabis licenses that can be issued to cultivators and dispensaries throughout the state to 20 and 120, respectively. This includes existing medical marijuana licences.

According to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, medical marijuana patients spent $22.29 millions at Arkansas dispensaries in June and purchased 3,926 pounds of cannabis. Patients spend an average of $22.37 million per month at Arkansas’ 38 dispensaries to purchase about 3,920 pounds of cannabis.

According to the state Department of Health, there were 88.012 active medical marijuana ID card holders in the state as of July 30.

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