Cannabis advocate Melissa Fults said Tuesday that her nonprofit will file two ballot petitions with the Arkansas secretary of state on Wednesday, including one that would legalize recreational use of cannabis.
The petitions will not be publicly available until Wednesday afternoon, Fults told Arkansas Business.
Her Drug Policy Education Group aims to file one ballot petition that would "legalize and regulate cannabis for adult recreational use." Another would allow low-level marijuana offenders to petition a court for expungement.
"Other states have seen better, safer outcomes by removing the black market elements created by the illegal sale of cannabis," Fults said in a news release. "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."
The Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment (AAUCA) would allow dispensaries to sell to adults 21 years of age and older starting Dec. 4, 2020. It would permit small home cultivation of marijuana, with no more than six mature plants and six seedlings allowed.
Fults told Arkansas Business that the amendment also provides for one cultivation center per 250,000 Arkansas residents and a minimum of 30 dispensaries per congressional district. In addition, the dispensaries that are already licensed to sell medical marijuana would automatically receive recreational licenses.
The AAUCA would put oversight of the program under the state Alcohol Beverage Control Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. Tax revenue from expanded marijuana sales would "go to staff the Alcohol Beverage Control Division with excess revenues going toward pre-K and after-school programs and the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences," according to the news release.
The second petition would allow people with low-level cannabis convictions to petition for expungement.
The Arkansas Marijuana Expungement Amendment (AMEA) would allow people with marijuana convictions "involving marijuana paraphernalia or less than 16 ounces of marijuana to petition a court for release from incarceration, reduction of sentence, expungement of the conviction and/or restoration of rights."
The amendment would authorize creating a dedicated court to handle the petition process.
While he said he hadn't read Fults' proposal, Little Rock attorney David Couch, author of Arkansas' medical marijuana amendment, said generally that a recreational program might be worthwhile and politically possible.
"I do think that Arkansas could pass a recreational marijuana initiative in 2020, but like 2016 with medical marijuana, it [the ballot proposal] would need to be tailored to the desires of the Arkansas voters and certainly designed to protect the existing medical marijuana program," he told Arkansas Business. "A recreational and medical program could coexist."
Fults told Arkansas Business she expects the amendment, if passed, to have a positive effect on the state's existing medical marijuana program.
She said the state government had "done a horrendous job" with that program, which didn't get "off the ground" until more than two years after voters approved Couch's amendment.
Fults said her amendment includes many more restrictions on what the Legislature could do after it's passed. For example, the state would not be able to move the recreational program's launch date.
"There are a multitude of patients that have been left behind because the Legislature would not allow us to add extra qualifying conditions," she said. "So there are about 37 conditions that people won't be able to use [marijuana for]" under the current medical marijuana program.
Robert DeBin, president of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association, said the trade group had no comment on adult-use legalization at present.
"We are currently focused on ensuring the launch of our state's medical cannabis program continues with all due haste," DeBin told Arkansas Business in an email.
Fults insisted that legalizing recreational marijuana would increase access and drive prices down.
"Marijuana is much less harmful than alcohol, cigarettes and most of the prescription drugs that they put out every day," she said. "So it's time for us to come out of the dark. It's time for us to wake up and bring Arkansas to a new day.
"It's a win-win for everybody. It's a win for patients. It's a win for people who didn't qualify. It's a win for Arkansas. It'll create thousands of jobs."
Jerry Cox, founder and president of Family Council, disagrees.
"Our position on recreational marijuana is that it's bad for the people of Arkansas because it creates yet another avenue for people to bring harm to themselves and bring harm to their families and bring harm to innocent people who may be injured in some way by someone who is under the influence of marijuana," he told Arkansas Business. "It's really, in that regard, a lot like any other addictive substance that impairs people."
Cox said marijuana impairs drivers and makes parents less responsible so that children are neglected.
The Family Council is planning to campaign against the legalization of recreational marijuana, as it did against medical marijuana.
"We said that medical marijuana was just the first step toward recreational marijuana and that that was the end game, and, of course, we were correct, unfortunately," Cox said.
He added that states like Colorado, after legalizing marijuana for recreational use, saw an uptick in vehicle accidents and other issues caused by people being under the influence.
"It's a problem we do not need to create," Cox said.
(With reporting by Sarah Campbell-Miller and Kyle Massey.)