The industry-backed group trying to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas has collected more than 65,000 verified signatures and has spent more than $1 million in its attempt to make the November ballot, according to the group’s most recent financial report.
Responsible Growth Arkansas needs at least 89,151 verified signatures before the July 8 deadline. The campaign has collected the required number of signatures in 17 counties and has six more counties to go, according to campaign chair Eddie Armstrong.
Known as the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, the proposal would increase the number of dispensaries in the state to 120 and the number of cultivators in the state to 20. The 12 new cultivators would be allowed to grow up to 250 plants and have been compared to craft breweries. The plan would also eliminate the tax on medical marijuana and, through taxes on recreational sales, would provide funding to law enforcement, drug courts and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
While bad weather has made it difficult to gather signatures at times, Armstrong said upcoming summer holidays with concerts and events will be good for collecting signatures.
With about seven weeks to go, Armstrong said he feels good about his group’s chances of collecting the required signatures by the deadline.
“A hundred percent,” Armstrong said.
According to its financial report filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission, Responsible Growth Arkansas spent $377,989 last month, putting the group’s total expenditures at $1,006,655.
The largest expenditure was a $300,000 payment to Advanced Micro Targeting Inc. of Dallas for the “ballot signature process.”
Advanced Micro Targeting specializes in signature-gathering for ballot initiatives, according to the company’s website. The Texas company has worked on successful ballot initiatives in Montana, Ohio, North Dakota and Alaska over the past six years, according to Ballotpedia.
A page on the company’s site headlined “Petition Circulators Needed” says the company is looking for people to gather signatures in Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Conway, Fayetteville, Bentonville, Jonesboro and the surrounding areas. The site says employees will start at $20 per hour with an additional $30 per day for drivers.
Other expenditures last month included $25,221 to Wright, Lindsey and Jennings LLP for legal services and $11,440 to Kiski Legal LLC of Little Rock for advertising.
The organization also paid $7,966 to Maple and Orange, $7,565 to Arkansas Graphics and $7,500 to McLarty Consulting.
Maple and Orange is the political consulting firm owned by Armstrong. McLarty Consulting is the political consulting firm of Robert McLarty, who is an owner of Good Day Farm Cultivation and The Source dispensary in Bentonville.
The president of Arkansas Graphics is Kevin Wilcox, who is an owner of Good Day Farm Cultivation and Berner’s by Good Day Farm.
Armstrong said the experience of Arkansas marijuana industry professionals benefits the campaign. The consultants have not been paid exorbitant sums of money, either, Armstrong said.
“Do you want people in the industry, trying to bring forth something that they’ve already seen the success, the failures, the problems and the issues?” Armstrong said. “Or do you want new individuals creating something that may turn into a nightmare because of the legislature or the rule-making process.”
Responsible Growth Arkansas has raised $1.86 million, thanks in large part to contributions of $350,000 each by five of the state’s cultivators. Armstrong said he is continuing to raise money for the campaign and will soon add donations from dispensaries. Armstrong said he has also sought donations from companies that work with marijuana businesses as well as the three cultivators who have not yet donated to the campaign.
Armstrong said a lawsuit the first five cultivators filed over the state Medical Marijuana Commission’s issuance of licenses to the other three cultivators has complicated matters but he remains hopeful of getting them all on board.
According to the recent financial report, Responsible Growth Arkansas received two donations last month: $25,000 from Shanksy F. Song of Bentonville and $15,000 from NEA Green LLC of Little Rock. Shansky F. Song LLC owns The ReLeaf Center Dispensary and Farm in Bentonville. The business is owned by Roger Song, Kevin Frazier, Laura Frazier Shansky and Matt Shanksy. NEA Green LLC was incorporated by Alex Gray who is an owner of Good Day Farm Cultivation and Berner’s by Good Day Farm.