LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Supreme Court said Thursday that voters can decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana, overturning a state panel’s decision to block the measure from the November ballot.
The justices granted a request from Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group behind the proposal, to certify the measure for the November ballot.
“The people will decide whether to approve the proposed amendment in November,” Judge Robin Wynne wrote in the court ruling.
The group behind the proposal appealed after the state Board of Election Commissioners blocked the initiative in August. Supporters submitted more than enough valid signatures from registered voters to qualify, but the proposal still needed board approval to appear on the ballot.
“We are extremely grateful to the Supreme Court for agreeing with us and they felt it was a complete validation of everything we’ve done,” said Steve Lancaster, attorney for Responsible Growth Arkansas. until November”.
Because the deadline to certify initiative titles has passed, the court had allowed the measure on the general election ballot while it decided whether votes would be counted.
Arkansas voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana. The proposed amendment would allow those over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and allow state-licensed dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana.
The Board of Election Commissioners rejected the measure after commissioners said they did not believe the ballot title fully explained the impact of the amendment to voters. Supporters of the measure argued that the board’s criticism went beyond what was required for ballot initiatives.
The judges rejected the board’s arguments to deny the measure, but the court also struck down the 2019 law that empowered the board to certify ballot measures. Before that law, ballot measures had to be reviewed by the attorney general before petitions could circulate.
Two conservative justices agreed that the panel did not have the authority to reject the proposal, but said Arkansas’s Republican secretary of state also correctly found the proposal insufficient for the state’s ballot.
“The title of the proposed ballot is not complete enough to reveal the scope of the proposed amendment nor is it free from misleading omissions with respect to child protection issues,” Justice Shawn Womack wrote in a separate opinion.
A spokesman said Secretary of State John Thurston, who chairs the board of election commissioners, had no comment on the ruling.
Recreational marijuana is already legal in 19 states, and legalization proposals are on the ballot this fall in South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri and Maryland. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a proposal in that state will not appear on the ballot in November.
Responsible Growth Arkansas has raised more than $4 million in support of the Arkansas measure, primarily from medical marijuana businesses. Safe and Secure Communities, a group formed to oppose the measure, has raised more than $2 million from an Arkansas poultry executive and an Illinois shipping executive who have endorsed Republican candidates.
The Family Council, another group campaigning against the measure, on Thursday called the legalization proposal a “recipe for disaster.”
Republican Governor of Arkansas. Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration who opposed the proposal, had no immediate comment on the ruling.