A ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday moved justices a step closer to making a final call on whether votes for an industry-backed effort to legalize recreational marijuana will be counted in November.
The high court on Monday directed the Secretary of State John Thurston to make a formal finding that the proposed measure by Responsible Growth Arkansas is insufficient based on the wording of its ballot title.
The state Board of Election Commissioners in August rejected the ballot title under which the marijuana proposal would have appeared before voters in November.
Steve Lancaster of Wright Lindsey & Jennings of Little Rock, an attorney for Responsible Growth, said Thurston's formal declaration of the board's finding will give the court confidence "that they have jurisdiction over this question."
"And then they can make the ultimate determination about whether we're on the ballot and our votes will count," Lancaster told Arkansas Business on Monday. "So we see this as just kind of a procedural step. It really doesn't decide anything, other than just puts us one step closer to an ultimate decision by the Supreme Court."
Responsible Growth Arkansas had turned in 192,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot — well above the 89,000 minimum required. It quickly appealed the Board of Election Commissioners' decision to reject its proposal to the state Supreme Court.
Lancaster said that, after Thurston acts, his client won't have to file any new petitions with the court.
"We think that once, once the secretary of state does that, then the Supreme Court is free to issue an opinion," he said. "Whether that ... when that happens, we don't we don't know and don't have any control over that. That'll be up to the court. But, again, we think that as soon as the secretary of state complies with the court's order, then they'll be free to issue an opinion."
The Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment would give each of the current 48 medicinal marijuana cultivation and dispensary license holders a recreational license to match, and would allow additional licenses to be granted via lottery, though new cultivators would be “second-tier” operators limited to growing 250 plants at any time.
Arkansas’ medicinal marijuana system has about 85,000 patients, eight cultivators and 40 dispensary licenses.
Three cultivation companies and several dispensaries have funded the Responsible Growth effort, kicking in more than $3 million, according to Arkansas Ethics Commission documents.