As expected, a third separate plan to change Arkansas Constitution and legalize recreational cannabis advanced Tuesday with the backing of growers in the state’s existing medical marijuana market.
The proposal, the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, was put forward as a petition from voters filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office. The group behind the ballot question, Responsible Growth Arkansas, is chaired by former Arkansas House Democratic Leader Eddie Armstrong III.
Armstrong told Arkansas Business that the proposal represents a “responsible and highly regulated” path to legal marijuana use by adults in Arkansas. “We took an approach with this measure to ensure that the medical marijuana industry will be involved, and we hope to expand access without turning this into the wild west,” he said.
Far from a case of “rich guys looking to get richer,” Armstrong said the proposal was developed after a series of conversations with community leaders and stakeholders. “This is a plan to expand a regulated marketplace.”
Getting 89,000 signatures was a challenge, and Responsible Growth is ready for any potential Arkansas Supreme Court challenges to its ballot title. “If we make it through these checkpoints, we’re confident that there’s an appetite among voters for adult-use cannabis in Arkansas.”
Five cultivators in the medical marijuana industry, which was legalized through a 2016 statewide vote, have clearly shown their appetite. The medicinal market, with eight cultivation sites and 40 dispensaries, is poised to grow rapidly if all adults become potential customers. The first medicinal dispensaries opened in 2019, and about 80,000 Arkansas patients have medical marijuana cards.
Five medicinal growers — Bold Team LLC, Good Day Farms Arkansas LLC, Osage Creek Cultivation LLC, NSMC-OPCO LLC and DMCC LLC — each donated $350,000 to Responsible Growth Arkansas, according to Arkansas Ethics Commission filings.
The Responsible Growth amendment would direct the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division to simply issue adult-use cultivation and dispensary licenses to the companies that already have medical cannabis licenses, then expand the number of adult-use dispensaries to 120 and cultivation sites to 20 statewide.
The current cultivators are built into the Responsible Growth program from the start, said David Couch, a Little Rock lawyer and author of the 2016 medical marijuana amendment. He’s backing a separate ballot issue. “I helped Melissa [Fults] draft her proposal, which is also seeking a place on the ballot this year.”
Fults is with the Arkansas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Couch said a key component of her plan is expunging the criminal records of Arkansans convicted under previous marijuana laws.
Known as the Arkansas Adult Use and Expungement Marijuana Amendment, the proposal also carves out a marketplace for existing medical marijuana purveyors, but it is unique among the Arkansas proposals in exonerating offenders.
The third ballot effort, titled the Arkansas Marijuana Amendment of 2022, was initiated by Arkansas True Grass and would legalize cannabis for people over 21. It would not cap the number of marijuana businesses in the state, rather taking a wide-open approach similar to Oklahoma’s.
Meanwhile, Responsible Growth Arkansas has begun spending a fraction of its $1.75 million war chest. In a recent ethics filing, it reported spending $45,000 for management consulting: $22,500 each to McLarty Consulting and Maple & Orange LLC, dated Dec. 15.
McLarty Consulting is led by Robert McLarty; Armstrong himself leads Maple & Orange.