LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas' surgeon general and church groups launched a campaign Thursday against recreational marijuana proposals that advocates hope to get on the ballot four years after voters approved medical marijuana.
The campaign is focused on urging people to not sign petitions circulating around the state for the two competing marijuana proposals. Supporters of the measures must submit at least 89,151 signatures from registered voters by July 3 and have their proposals' wording approved by the state Board of Election Commissioners to qualify for the November ballot.
Arkansas voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for patients with certain medical conditions, and dispensaries opened last year. Since then, medical marijuana sales in the state have exceeded $35 million.
“The fact of the matter is today, inevitably, we're dealing with recreational marijuana, just like we expected we would be four years ago,” Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
The groups opposing the recreational pot proposals include the Arkansas Family Council and the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, which have filed paperwork with the state to campaign against the measures. Neither group plans television or radio advertising against the measures at this point.
“We're trying to reinforce our base, the grass roots, and reach those in the middle with compelling arguments," Larry Page, the Faith and Ethics Council's executive director, said. “It's not necessarily a moral argument that might win them. It might be a quality of life argument.”
Republican Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, who organized the news conference, released a name of at least two dozen lawmakers opposed to the legalization efforts.
“It's too late if we wait until it's on the ballot. We need to start before that, encouraging people not to sign,” said Bledsoe, who is also the surgeon general's mother.
Melissa Fults, who heads the group campaigning for one of the recreational marijuana measures, said canvassers have gathered more than 10,000 signatures around the state. Fults said the measure would help people who have conditions that aren't covered by the current medical marijuana amendment or have been unable to get the product due to delays in some dispensaries opening around the state.
“We want to get it out of the black market, out of the dark, bring it in to the light, create a whole new industry, create jobs and create money for the state," Fults said.
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