Brian Chilson

The Drug Policy Education Group has announced that it’s filing a proposal for a constitutional amendment with the Secretary of State that would legalize recreational marijuana. The group also said it would submit another proposed amendment that would allow Arkansans who have been convicted of crimes involving less than 16 ounces of marijuana to petition a court for expungement. The group will be able to start collecting signatures as soon as the proposals are filed.

A new state law will make securing spots on the ballot more challenging. Act 376, which went into effect March 8, shifted the reviewing authority of the ballot title and text of the proposals from the attorney general to the state Board of Election Commissioners and, more crucially, changed when that review happens. Before the law change, the attorney general reviewed the title and text before groups could gather signatures (You’ll remember that Attorney General Leslie Rutledge rejected some 70 proposals in recent years, so it wasn’t exactly an ideal system either). Now, the review only happens after the sufficient number of signatures have been collected. The new law also tightens procedural requirements, providing openings to disqualify signatures for simple, honest mistakes, such as a smudged notary seal.

The number of signatures required to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot is 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. That’s 89,151. Proponents also have to gather at least 5 percent of the number of gubernatorial votes in a county in at least 15 counties.

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The Drug Policy Education Group is a 501 (c)(4) nonprofit headed by Melissa Fults, who headed two unsuccessful petition drives to get a medical marijuana proposal on the ballot.

Here’s how the group described the proposals:

The Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment (AAUCA)

The AAUCA would designate the state Alcohol Beverage Control Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration to issue licenses and establish the rules of the program while setting the minimum number of cultivation and distribution licenses allowed. Dispensaries licensed under Amendment 98 will be able to sell to adults 21 years of age and older starting December 4, 2020. Small home cultivation of six mature plants and six seedlings will be allowed.

The Arkansas Marijuana Expungement Amendment [AMEA]

The AMEA will allow persons with marijuana convictions involving marijuana paraphernalia or less than sixteen (16) ounces of marijuana to petition a court for release from incarceration, reduction of sentence, expungement of the conviction and/or restoration of rights. The amendment would authorize the creation of a dedicated court for this purpose.

“Other states have seen better, safer outcomes by removing the black market elements created by the illegal sale of cannabis. The truth is that cannabis is safer than alcohol while prohibition is ineffective and racially biased. It has done far more harm in our community than cannabis,” Fults said in the release.

The group said that tax revenues for the amendment would first go to staff the Alcohol Beverage Control Division and then toward expanding pre-K and after-school programs and the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences.