A group in Arkansas will take an early but meaningful step this week toward ultimately making recreational marijuana use legal in the state.
The Drug Policy Education Group, a nonprofit based in Arkansas, said it plans to file a pair of ballot petitions with the secretary of state on Wednesday with the intention of getting two proposals on the ballot next year.
One proposal, called the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, or AAUCA, would give authority to a state agency, the Alcohol Beverage Control Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, to issue licenses to would-be dispensaries and to establish a set of rules pertaining to the number of licenses awarded and limits on cannabis cultivation.
Under the amendment, dispensaries would be permitted to sell marijuana to those over the age of 21 beginning in December of 2020.
The other proposal, known as the Arkansas Marijuana Expungement Amendment, or AMEA, would be aimed at rectifying previous pot convictions by permitting those who were busted for paraphernalia or possession of fewer than 16 ounces to petition a court for release from prison or expungement of the conviction.
Melissa Fults, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Education Group, told local ABC affiliate KATV that “[o]ther states have seen better, safer outcomes by removing the black-market elements created by the illegal sale of cannabis.”
“The truth is that cannabis is safer than alcohol while prohibition is ineffective and racially biased. It has done far more harm in our community than cannabis,” Fults told the station.
The group will begin circulating the petitions for signatures once the proposals are filed on Wednesday. In order to qualify for the 2020 ballot, the group must round up signatures equivalent to at least 10% of the total votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election.
If approved, the amendments would upend what the Marijuana Policy Project calls “some of the harshest marijuana laws in the nation.” Possession of fewer than four ounces of marijuana can land you in jail for up to a year; in 2012, according to the MPP, there were at least 5,700 marijuana arrests, 90% of which were for posssesion.
While recreational pot may be illegal in the state, Arkansas’ fledgling medical cannabis program is off to a booming start. Voters in the state approved an amendment legalizing the treatment in 2016, although the law’s implementation was delayed considerably by disagreements among Arkansas lawmakers. But after fits and starts, the first dispensary opened in May and, since then, sales of medical marijuana have already eclipsed $2 million. The state’s fifth dispensary is set to open this week, and the Arkansas Department of Health said that it has already approved nearly 16,000 medical marijuana cards for both patients and caregivers.