Arkansans have a chance to add their names to three petitions for state constitutional amendments that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults. But the three proposals differ in how they would shape cannabis use in the state.
Those differences come in how they would increase the number of dispensaries and cultivators, how cannabis would be taxed and whether past criminal convictions for marijuana would be expunged.
Organizers for the three proposals each need 89,151 verified signatures by July 8 to make the November ballot. If two or more measures make the ballot and receive more than 50% of the vote, the amendment with the highest vote total will become law, according to Kevin Niehaus of the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office.
Arkansans can sign each of the petitions once, Niehaus said.
Arkansas voters passed Amendment 98 to the Arkansas constitution in 2016, legalizing medical marijuana in the state. The 2016 amendment allows for up to 40 dispensaries and eight cultivators who serve patients who qualify by having one or more of 18 qualifying conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Commission has issued 38 of the maximum 40 dispensary licenses, and all eight of the cultivation licenses. The medical marijuana amendment does not allow residents to grow their own marijuana plants.
Arkansas True Grass
The first amendment was filed last year by Arkansas True Grass, a group of volunteers who describe themselves on their website as a “grassroots movement to legalize cannabis in Arkansas.” Called “The Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Amendment of 2022,” this proposal takes the least restrictive approach to cannabis legalization, allowing for an unlimited number of dispensaries and cultivators in the state.
The Arkansas True Grass proposal is also the only proposal that would allow Arkansas residents to grow their own marijuana plants. According to the amendment, Arkansas residents could grow up to 12 plants of their own out of public view and may possess an unlimited number of seeds.
The amendment would also expunge convictions for some marijuana offenders. Under the amendment, anyone incarcerated or serving probation or parole for a violation of the Arkansas Uniformed Controlled Substances Act as it pertains to marijuana and whose only conviction was for a marijuana-related offense prior to Nov. 9, 2022, would be released and their convictions would be expunged.
“It’s the best [amendment] for the people, for the poor people mostly, people who can’t afford to participate in the medical program,” said Briana Boling, who filed the amendment for Arkansas True Grass.
Boling provided an example of a friend with health issues who lives on a fixed income. The friend can’t afford a medical marijuana card and can’t afford the prices at dispensaries, she said, so he still buys marijuana off the street even though it’s legal for medical use. The friend is also a felon who was convicted for selling marijuana, Boling said.
“It’s the people like that that we’re wanting to help,” Boling said.
Recreational marijuana would be taxed at 13%, according to the amendment, with an 8% excise tax and 5% sales tax. Medical marijuana would continue to be taxed at 10.5%. Arkansas True Grass has raised $14,208.58, according to filings with the Arkansas Ethics Commission.
The second amendment was filed last year by marijuana advocate Melissa Fults, who serves on the state board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Called “The Arkansas Marijuana Amendment of 2022,” Fults’ amendment takes a more restrictive approach than Arkansas True Grass. For instance, whereas Arkansas True Grass would allow for an unlimited number of dispensaries and cultivators, Fults’ plan would limit them based on the state’s population.
Under Fults’ amendment, there would be one dispensary for every 17,500 in population or part thereof. Based on Arkansas’s population of 3,025,891 in the 2020 census, the amendment would allow for 173 dispensaries, but the number could increase as the state’s population grows.
There would also be one cultivator for every 300,000 residents in the state, which would permit 11 cultivators, based on census figures.
The amendment would also increase the number of plants dispensaries can grow from 50 to 400. Fults said this would allow the dispensaries to be less reliant on cultivators for their product.
Fults said her amendment is right for Arkansas because it strikes a balance between restrictive and unrestrictive approaches to cannabis legalization.
“It’s middle of the road,” Fults said. “It’s open enough to satisfy consumers but also restrictive enough because people who won’t partake but want people to legally do it can live with it.”
Fults’ amendment also expunges some criminal convictions related to marijuana. According to the proposal, all nonviolent felony and misdemeanor convictions before Jan. 1, 2023, for possession, cultivation, manufacture, distribution or sale of 16 ounces or less of marijuana, six or fewer marijuana plants, or marijuana paraphernalia would be expunged.
Fults’ amendment would also expand the medical marijuana program. The amendment would allow Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) to certify patients for the program, in addition to doctors. The amendment would also expand the qualifying conditions to include any condition the certifying doctor or APRN believes would benefit from cannabis-based therapeutics. Patients would also be able to use telemedicine for new certifications and for medical card renewals.
Fults’ amendment would eliminate state taxes on medical marijuana while taxing recreational marijuana at 15%.
Fults has not raised any money to date.
Responsible Growth Arkansas
The final amendment is from Responsible Growth Arkansas, a ballot question committee led by former state Rep. Eddie Armstrong. Called “The Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment,” the proposal has the support of five of the state’s cultivators, who each chipped in $350,000 for a total of $1.75 million.
The amendment takes the most restrictive approach of the three proposals, increasing the number of dispensaries to 120 and the number of cultivators to 20. The cultivation licenses would be split into two groups. The original eight cultivators would be granted Tier 1 licenses and would be permitted to grow unlimited amounts of cannabis. The remaining 12 cultivation licenses would be considered Tier 2 licenses, and those cultivators would be permitted to grow up to 250 plants each. Armstrong has compared the smaller cultivators to being like craft breweries.
The amendment does not expunge any marijuana convictions and does not expand the medical marijuana program.
Like Fults’ amendment, Responsible Growth Arkansas’s proposal would eliminate taxes on medical marijuana. Under Responsible Growth’s plan, recreational marijuana would be taxed at the same 10.5% rate at which medical marijuana is currently taxed. Revenue from the taxes generated by recreational marijuana would go to the state’s general revenues and would also support cancer research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and fund a stipend for law enforcement officers.
Armstrong said the industry leaders behind his amendment did a lot of work to draft an amendment with a highly regulated marketplace that could pass. He said the amendment is not a “shot in the dark.”
“I think [this amendment is] the right one, because it’s the most tightly regulated and most responsible approach that the industry took upon themselves to really work through before presenting anything to the people of the state,” Armstrong said.
The cultivators who donated to Responsible Growth Arkansas are Bold Team LLC of Cotton Plant; Good Day Farms Arkansas LLC of Rogers; Osage Creek Cultivation LLC of Berryville; DMCC LLC of Jonesboro; and NSMC-OPCO LLC of White Hall.
Armstrong said he believes his amendment provides a regulated market that will appeal to voters, rather than the more unregulated medical marijuana market in neighboring Oklahoma.
“It’s industry-led, it’s responsible,” Armstrong said of the proposal. “It’s tightly regulated. It’s not Oklahoma, and we don’t want that.”