More Time Given For Arkansas Medical Marijuana Petitions

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A proposed constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for medical use fell short of the number of valid signatures required but will have 30 days to make up the difference.

To qualify for the ballot, proposed amendments this year must collect 84,859 signatures. According to a letter sent by the secretary of state’s office to David Couch of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, 72,309 of the 99,629 signatures the group submitted were valid.

The proposed amendment does qualify for a 30-day cure period to collect more signatures. To qualify for the cure period, the effort was required to reach 75% of the 84,859 amount, which would be 63,644.25.

When the group submitted its signatures July 8, Couch expected to fall short and said he would easily collect enough signatures during the cure period. In fact, he said he withheld thousands of signatures so as not to qualify with a small amount that could be challenged and disqualified.

The amendment authorizes the state to create up to 40 for-profit dispensaries and eight cultivation facilities, with the Department of Health maintaining a patient database to regulate who receives the drug, and how much. The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Commission would inspect the dispensaries and cultivation facilities. Sales tax revenues would cover the cost of regulation. Excess funds would be deposited into the state’s general revenue funds and would fund workforce skills training.

An initiated act that would legalize medical marijuana, sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, has already qualified for the November ballot. The two measures conceivably could both qualify. If both pass, the one with the most votes would become law.

The two differ in that Arkansans for Compassionate Care’s version would be an initiated act with the force of law, while Couch’s group is pushing a constitutional amendment, a higher legal threshold. Both would set up dispensaries where people could obtain medical marijuana, but Arkansans for Compassionate Care’s dispensaries would be run by non-profits and would include a provision allowing people to grow their own marijuana if they live too far from a dispensary. Couch’s version also lists only 14 ailments that would qualify for use, while Arkansans for Compassionate Care’s version lists about 50.

A proposal to legalize medical marijuana narrowly was rejected by voters in 2012. A Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll conducted June 21 found that 58% of respondents support the idea.