Multiple marijuana proposals could be headed for 2016 ballot


LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas voters could have multiple marijuana-related issues to choose between in two years.

On Thursday, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved the ballot title and popular name of a initiated act proposed for the 2016 ballot that would allow possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes.

It was the second marijuana measure proposed for 2016 that McDaniel approved. On Aug. 5, he approved the ballot title and popular name of a proposed constitutional amendment that would make use and possession of marijuana legal in Arkansas, without restricting it to medical use.

The attorney general’s action clears the way for supporters to begin gathering signatures. To secure a spot on the November 2016 ballot, they will need to collect a number of signatures equal to 8 percent of the total votes cast in the governor’s race in November.

Meanwhile, Little Rock lawyer David Couch is hoping to place a third marijuana measure on the 2016 ballot.

Couch’s measure would legalize medical marijuana but is different from the measure proposed by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, which McDaniel approved Thursday, in that it does not include provisions allowing some people to grow marijuana at home or providing marijuana at lower cost to low-income people.

Couch was a member of Arkansans for Compassionate Care when that group placed a medical-marijuana measure on the 2012 ballot. The proposal failed on Election Day by a margin of less than 2 percent.

The group was working to place a measure on this year’s ballot when Couch decided to leave and submit his own proposal. Ultimately, neither made it onto the November ballot.

“Our disagreement arose over the ability to pass it with ‘grow your own’ involved in it,” Couch said.

The proposal by Arkansans for Compassionate Care would allow the creation of marijuana dispensaries and would allow people who live more than 20 miles from a dispensary to grow a limited amount of marijuana. Couch said polls have shown that Arkansas voters are less likely to support legalizing medical marijuana if it allows any home cultivation.

Couch also said he questioned whether it would be legal to require the operators of dispensaries to offer the same product to different people at different prices.

Melissa Fults, campaign director for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, said the rest of the group was not willing to forgo those provisions.

“We wanted to make sure that every patient was protected and could afford as well as have access to medication,” she said. “We believe that someone that makes $600 a month in disability and is bedridden should be able to afford and have access to their medicine just like the richest person in Arkansas.”

Fults said the effort to place her group’s measure on this year’s ballot failed because the group had a short window to collect signatures between McDaniel’s approval of the wording in October and the July 7 deadline, and because bad weather plagued its all-volunteer canvassing effort.

The group had enjoyed financial backing from a national organization, the Marijuana Policy Project, in 2012 but did not receive the same support this year.

“We hope to get financial support this time around because (the 2016 election) is a presidential election,” Fults said.

Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Medical Marijuana Project, said Friday, “We’ve found that ballot initiatives generally are a little more successful for us in presidential-election years just because of higher voter turnout.”

He said the organization has not yet decided where it will devote its resources in 2016.

Couch said he abandoned his efforts to get a measure on the 2014 ballot after encountering difficulty in raising funds to hire canvassers in a non-presidential-election year. He said he expects to have more success at fundraising in advance of the 2016 election.

Fults said Arkansans for Compassionate Care will use an all-volunteer canvassing team again, but she said that with a two-year window and nearly 650 volunteers already enlisted, the group should have no trouble collecting enough signatures this time.

Fults and Couch each said they believed their measure would prevail. Fults said her group has been around since the late 1990s and has much more experience with medical-marijuana efforts than Couch; Couch said polling shows his proposal has the best chance of passing.

Both said they believe Arkansas would not approve full legalization of marijuana, as voters did in 2012 in Colorado and Washington state.

“I don’t think we’re nearly there yet,” Fults said.

“I polled recreational. It’s not going to pass,” Couch said.

The measure for full legalization that McDaniel approved Aug. 5 is sponsored by Frederick Porter of Hot Springs. A listed phone number for Porter was out of service Friday.

Jerry Cox, president of the Christian conservative Family Council, said his group will oppose any legalization of marijuana in Arkansas, including medical marijuana.

“Everybody knows that this is just a back-door way to eventually legalize marijuana for all purposes, and if people don’t believe that they just need to look at Colorado and Washington state as evidence that this is where this is headed,” he said. “I don’t think that Arkansas needs to take everyone a step down that road.”