In 2012, a few Arkansas lawmakers sought to legalize medical marijuana. The measure didn’t receive enough support, and so it sank quietly away into parliamentary oblivion. Now, two years later, there is a strong initiative in the state to make pot legal. This is significant given that the state has, arguably, the harshest marijuana laws in the entire U.S.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, citizens caught with up to four ounces of marijuana may spend a year in the slammer. Take note: that’s “up to,” not “more than.” Possession of larger amounts of the plant bring harsher sentences, and if convicted of a “third strike” with even small amounts, individuals can face up to six years in prison. If convicted of cultivation with an intent to sell, defendants could face up to 30 years in prison under the current laws.
The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act will appear in the November 4, 2014 election ballot if it receives popular support. If signed into law, the bill would provide for a system whereby medical marijuana dispensaries could operate legally in non-profit status. The two groups behind the initiative are the Arkansans for Compassionate Care 2014 and Arkansans for Responsible Medicine.
Each group is proposing a slightly different bill, however, and it remains to be seen if competition between them will hinder progress. One feature of both initiatives that was lacking from the 2012 effort is raising eyebrows in the state. Under the new law, patients would be able to grow their own marijuana. Arkansans for Compassionate Care 2014 is also attempting to put into place a low-income program that would allow patients that fall below a yearly income to obtain their buds at low or no cost.
The bill acknowledges that marijuana remains illegal on a federal level, leaving some to speculate whether the federal government will step in and shut these programs down. So far, however, the Obama Administration has been supportive of the effort, and Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that the administration would not be against rescheduling the drug.
On the state level, the bill has been approved by State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who has famously fought hard against similar measures in the past. There is widespread speculation that the fiscal success of marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado has much to do with the reversal. However, McDaniel has stated that his office shot down previous proposals because of vague wording.
The Race for Signatures
Proponents of the bill have until Monday, July 7th, 2014 to gather 78,133 signatures in favor of the proposed changes to state statutes. Oddly, the movement doesn’t have their own website, though they do have a Facebook page. The signature requirement is broken down by county, and supporters have to collect a predefined number of signatures from at least 15 of the state’s 75 counties. Robert Reed, the author of the auspicious bill, has been beating the pavement with passionate fans. Reed reports that his group has 50,000 petition sheets circulating in the state and says, “The regulations to get a petition are massive, and with less than 30 days just to get it done, with no funding at all by the citizens of Arkansas, we’ll make history.”