Voters in Arkansas, one of the most consistently conservative states in the union, may get the chance to approve legal recreational marijuana in Arkansas in the November 2022 election if the secretary of state approves signatures from state residents seeking to get the measure on the ballot.
That validation seems likely. The group that organized the drive to collect signatures, Responsible Growth Arkansas, gathered twice as many signatures as needed to get their proposal on the November ballot. If that happens and voters approve the measure, Arkansas could join the other 20 states that have legalized adult use marijuana.
It’s notable because Arkansas is part of a region where recreational marijuana is not legal in any state, including all the states that surround Arkansas.
A Movement in Red States
The drive to get the issue on the ballot in Arkansas is the latest of many such movements involving medical marijuana across a block of conservative southern states. But Arkansas would become the first state in the region to legalize recreational marijuana.
The state’s voters legalized medical marijuana in 2016, as have voters in Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida. Almost 84,000 people have a medical marijuana card in a state with a population of about 3 million. In 2021, state residents spent almost $265 million on medical cannabis.
Part of the tax proceeds from medical marijuana sales funds the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.
The Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment
The Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment calls for allowing people ages 21 and over to buy recreational cannabis and allows dispensaries licensed by the state to sell adult-use cannabis and cannabis products.
The law prohibits marketing and packaging that might appeal to those under 21. It also decriminalizes possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by those 21 and older. It would remain illegal to possess larger amounts or for those under 21 to possess any amount of cannabis. The measure does not include a provision for growing marijuana privately in the home.
The amendment will “ensure that one mistake won’t last a lifetime by reforming our state’s existing drug laws,” according to Responsible Growth Arkansas. The 11-page proposal amends the state constitution.
The proposal does not have the support of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. He said legalization will increase the “harm” caused by marijuana use and that he will not support a measure that violates federal law (cannabis remains illegal at the federal level).
The group has signatures from people in all 75 Arkansas counties. If approved by voters, the measure would mandate a portion of marijuana sales proceeds fund law enforcement, healthcare research and drug courts.