Recreational Marijuana & Fairness


Recent court cases have highlighted the failure of the state’s Medical Marijuana Commission — six years after Arkansas voters approved medical marijuana — to create adequate and fair licensing procedures. 

And if Arkansans legalize recreational marijuana in an election this fall or in the future — a big if, but a possibility — the process has the potential to become even more problematic.

“Oh, if I had it to do over again, I would have had all the licenses granted by lottery and avoided this mess,” Little Rock lawyer David Couch told Assistant Editor Kyle Massey. “At least everyone would have an equal chance under a lottery,” said Couch, who wrote the 2016 constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana.

Responsible Growth Arkansas, an industry-led effort, is working to put recreational marijuana on the ballot this fall. The group’s amendment would direct the state to grant adult-use cultivation and dispensary licenses to the companies that already have medicinal licenses, then expand, by lottery, the number of adult-use dispensaries to 120 and cultivation sites to 20 statewide. Arkansas now has 40 dispensary licenses and eight licensed cultivators. 

Two competing efforts appear more likely to reach the ballot in 2024, if ever. The Arkansas Adult Use & Expungement Marijuana Amendment would allot licenses by lottery. Another initiative, by True Grass Arkansas, would provide licenses to all growers and sellers who apply.

A lottery certainly seems fairer and less prone to what have been frequent accusations of inequity, but even if recreational cannabis is not approved, the  commission needs to get its house in order. A spokesman told Massey that new rules “remain a top priority for this year.”

Smaller, more efficient government is a worthwhile goal, but the government we do have should at least be competent and fair.