Before You Vote: What to know about Arkansas’ recreational marijuana ballot amendment
WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (WMC) - Early voting has begun in Arkansas and will end the day before the Nov. 8 election.
One of the more hot-topic items of discussion on the statewide ballot is the question of whether or not the Natural State will have a recreational marijuana program.
If the answer to that question is yes, Arkansas will be the first state in the Southeast to have both a medical and recreational marijuana program.
The ballot item, Issue 4, would make a number of changes to Amendment 98, also known as the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, to lump in the growing and selling of recreational marijuana along with medical.
Arkansans over the age of 21 would be able to purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana at a time from a dispensary.
Those with medical licenses can do the same and not have that 1 ounce tacked off their two-week, 2.5-ounce allowance from the medical program.
The state-regulated industry would be expanded from eight cultivators to 20 and from 40 dispensaries to 80 across the state, those additional licenses being issued via a lottery system.
The cultivators and dispensaries that have already been in business for the state’s medical program, three dispensaries in West Memphis, will receive new licenses from the state to allow the growing and selling of recreational cannabis.
They could begin selling recreational cannabis after March 8, 2023.
Up until this point, there’s been a residency requirement for owners of cultivation facilities and dispensaries.
“...true, blue Arkansans: farmers, lawyers, physicians, educators that took an opportunity, applied for a license, and were awarded one,” said Eddie Armstrong with Responsible Growth Arkansas.
Armstrong is the chair of the pro-marijuana group that spearheaded the signature gathering for Issue 4, which produced over 190,000 signatures.
He says the expansion of the industry will promote healthy competition to the marketplace, but those against Issue 4 are worried the lack of a residency requirement will allow large, out-of-state cannabis corporations to consume the market.
“This is going to be a monopoly,” said Luke McCoy with the Family Council Action Committee (FCAC). “There’s not going to be competition among dispensaries and cultivators, which is going to cause the price to increase.”
McCoy was recently in West Memphis as part of a FCAC grass-roots effort to spread information about Issue 4, which they say is bad policy in part because of the lack of THC caps on cannabis products.
Issue 4 would remove a THC cap of 10mg on cannabis-infused food and drinks.
“The marijuana products in these dispensaries are going to be chock-full of THC,” McCoy said. ”Arkansas doesn’t need another drug problem. We’ve already got plenty of people who are negatively affected by drugs, families torn apart, employers understaffed.”
Armstrong, meanwhile, says Issue 4 will give Arkansans a new freedom and will produce millions in tax revenue for law enforcement agencies to combat real crime, as he says.
“You see a 2 to 1 margin of Arkansans that support this, if the votes were taken tomorrow,” Armstrong said. “This improves our economy and makes a great new workforce in our state, by bringing in at least 6,000 new jobs.”
As far as tax revenue, part of Issue 4′s appeal is that the 10% tax on medical purchases will be done away with.
The tax will be placed on recreational purchases, 16.5% at checkout.
The Arkansas Economic Development Institute reported that if recreational marijuana becomes a reality, the state is projected to receive more than $460 million in tax revenue over the next five years.
Revenue would be divided between four entities, and we’ll use the above figure as a hypothetical.
- Issue 4 states that 70% of tax revenue ($322 million) would go into the state’s General Fund, and the money collected from cultivation licenses will be used to offset the cost of state agencies that oversee the recreational program.
- 15% of revenue ($69 million) will be put toward paying stipends, annually, to law enforcement officers who are certified by the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training and are in good standing.
- 10% ($46 million) will go to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
- Finally, the remaining 5% ($23 million) would go to fund drug court programs authorized by the Arkansas Drug Court Act.
Though there are financial benefits for law enforcement, McCoy says law enforcement isn’t impressed with the layout of Issue 4.
“The Little Rock Police Department doesn’t support Issue 4,” he said. “The Craighead County Sheriff has been critical... as well as the Jonesboro Police Chief.”
McCoy added that public consumption concerns are at the forefront of the minds of people he’s spoken with.
“A public outdoors event, walking down the sidewalk, in front of someone’s home, at the park, in Downtown West Memphis... They will be able to smoke a marijuana joint just like they would a cigarette,” said McCoy.
Armstrong countered the concern by stating the power to opt out of the recreational program will be left to the local level.
“Public consumption of these products is still left up to cities and townships to decide,” Armstrong said.
What’s more, Issue 4 still allows employers and property owners to implement drug-free policies.
With just over two weeks left until the Nov. 8 election, both McCoy and Armstrong will be making their efforts to push voters to the polls to vote either for or against Issue 4.
“We want people to learn about Issue 4,” McCoy said. “We want them to read and make a well-informed decision.”
“The people of Eastern Arkansas should be aware that a vote for Issue 4 gives Arkansans over 21 the freedom to make their own decisions when it comes to if they choose to go and purchase cannabis like they would buy a six-pack of beer and being over 21 to do so.”
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