Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office this morning quietly posted a list of ballot initiatives for the November election that included both a measure to legalize three casinos in the state and a second medical marijuana proposal, a constitutional amendment.
This does NOT mean those two amendment have cleared the signature verification process. Said office spokesman Chris Powell:
Thursday was the deadline for our office to certify candidates and ballot issues for the general election. Two ballot issues, the casino amendment and the medical marijuana amendment have not yet been officially certified as being sufficient. However, due to ballot certification deadlines, they have been certified to the ballot and assigned a number. Should either petition not be deemed sufficient, the measure would still appear on the ballot, but the votes would not be reported. (See A.C.A. 7-5-203 and 7-5-204 for the relevant code requirements). I expect word on their sufficiency soon.
Backers of both those measures believe they have submitted sufficient signatures.
Signature approval wouldn’t necessarily end the process. A lawsuit has already been filed against an initiated act to allow medical marijuana, though a similar measure withstood a court challenge two years ago. The opponents of that measure presumably would be interested in challenging the constitutional amendment version as well, though its lead backer, Little Rock lawyer David Couch, has told me the Friday Law Firm, which filed the challenge for opponents, would have an unspecified conflict in suing him on the amendment.
Backers of the casino amendment have long expected opponents to mount a legal challenge once the signature verification process was complete. The amendment would give private investment groups named in the amendment sole right to open casinos in Washington, Boone and Miller counties. The Cherokee tribe of Oklahoma has financed much of the petition drive and has said it has agreement with the private groups to operate a casino in Washington County if the measure is approved. Arkansas now has two casinos — at the Southland and Oaklawn racetracks.
The medical marijuana amendments differ in that the initiated act would allow nonprofit dispensaries regulated by the state Health Department while the amendment would establish for-profit dispensaries regulated like alcoholic beverage dealers. The former would allow a limited amount of personal cultivation of marijuana. The amendment would not.
Also on the ballot are three legislative amendments: 1) four-year terms for county officers, including sheriffs; 2) ending the governor’s loss of power when out of state, and 3) a corporate welfare amendment to allow taxpayer-backed bonds for private business and taxpayer subsidies to chambers of commerce.
There’s another petition-backed amendment, the nursing home lobby’s effort to discourage lawsuits by setting a low cap on non-economic damages in abuse and neglect and malpractice cases and a cap on attorney fees. It is under challenge in court as having an insufficient ballot title that doesn’t identify all the changes it will make in existing law.