Hours after Gov. Asa Hutchinson urged law enforcement officials Wednesday to prepare for the debate on the legalization of recreational marijuana, as it would likely be on the Nov. 8 election ballot, the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners voted unanimously to deny the amendment.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Wednesday afternoon that the board said the measure "did not clearly specify whether there would be a certain THC limit on edibles."
"I just glanced at the actual wording of the initiative and the marijuana initiative, of course, is not medical marijuana, which we have, but is basically recreational use of marijuana," Hutchinson said, while speaking at the Arkansas Municipal Police Association Convention at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hot Springs.
"It will allow for 100 new licenses to be issued for either growing or dispensing marijuana. Eight of those licenses will be for the cultivation of marijuana in unlimited quantities. In other words, the grow quantities will not be limited in eight of those," he said.
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According to the secretary of state's office, the Responsible Growth Arkansas committee turned in the required number of valid signatures of registered voters to qualify its proposed constitutional amendment, and Hutchinson noted Wednesday it had been certified, giving, what many thought would be, the go-ahead to be on the general election ballot.
While Responsible Growth Arkansas may choose to file a lawsuit and take the matter to the Supreme Court, as of now it is off the ballot. The referendum proponent succeeded in submitting the required 89,151 valid signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot, according to the Associated Press.
The initiative would allow the issuance of adult-use cannabis cultivation and dispensary licenses to businesses that already hold licenses under the state's medical marijuana program. According to the petition, state regulators would award 40 additional store licenses through a lottery by July 5, 2023, and 12 additional cultivation licenses by Nov. 8, 2023.
"Now, they're going to sell this as something that's going to help law enforcement. Fifteen percent of the revenue from the taxes on the sales of marijuana will go to a fund to support law enforcement stipends, 10% of it will go to UAMS in Little Rock, and 5% will go to drug courts," Hutchinson said.
"And so, once again, they're selling a harmful drug to the citizens of Arkansas based upon promises that looks good. Now, those promises might be a reality, but I think you've got to be prepared for this debate."
Hutchinson said he hopes the law enforcement community can "stand firm" in opposition to its legalization.
"And the reason I oppose it is simply this: that it will increase the usage of marijuana," he said. "I believe that marijuana is a harmful drug. It is as simple as that. I look back to Alaska. In the 70s, they decriminalized marijuana. Marijuana use went up dramatically, particularly among their teens, and Alaska reversed courses and re-criminalized marijuana.
"They learned their lesson from that. Well, it's a different mood in our country from the 70s and where we are now but this is a significant debate that's going to happen."
He noted, currently, the polls are very close, with around 54% of voters in favor of the initiative.
"It's going to take a lot of education in order to change that climate and to be able to show voters that this would be, in fact, harmful," he said.
Hutchinson praised the law enforcement officials in attendance for their dedication to their duties.
"Whenever you look at our democracy, what stands America apart in our democracy is the fact that we have the rule of law. And whenever you look at some other democracies, Mexico, now they elect their president; They're a democratic nation, but they don't have an effective rule of law, where, there, bribery is a consistent part of their culture, you can't trust the judicial system, you can't trust law enforcement," he said.
He also cited China, which has the the second leading economy in the world.
"But they will never overtake us in terms of companies wanting to invest in the United States of America because they do not have the rule of law in China," he said. "And so America stands apart. It's unique. And you are the beginning, the front line of our rule of law that our founding fathers said is a linchpin of our democracy and the strength of our republic, and is foundational for this country."