Arkansas Governor Tells Police To ‘Stand Firm’ Against Marijuana Legalization Ballot Initiative That’s Heading To Court | Big Indy News
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Arkansas Governor Tells Police To ‘Stand Firm’ Against Marijuana Legalization Ballot Initiative That’s Heading To Court



The governor of Arkansas is rallying state law enforcement to “stand firm” in opposition to a marijuana legalization ballot initiative that may appear on the November ballot, depending of the outcome of a forthcoming legal challenge.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who previously headed the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), spoke about the reform proposal at the Arkansas Municipal Police Association Convention on Wednesday. He said officers should prepare themselves for the cannabis policy debate and become an active part of the resistance to the legalization push.

Hutchinson’s comments made it seem like it was a given that the initiative from Responsible Growth Arkansas would appear on the state ballot. But while the secretary of state recently verified that activists had turned in enough signatures to qualify, an elections board voted against certifying the ballot title on Wednesday, with commissioners arguing that certain language was misleading.

Stephen Lancaster, a spokesperson for the campaign, told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that the campaign will be filing a challenge against the board’s decision in the state Supreme Court imminently, possibly as early as Thursday afternoon. Advocates are hopeful that the court will find the measure sufficient for certification.

But while the campaign is confident that support for the legalization measure is strong among voters, pointing out that they managed to collect and submit more than twice as many signatures as required for ballot qualification, Hutchinson is gearing up for a fight.

“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,” the governor said at the police convention, as The Sentinel-Record reported. (The text of the proposed constitutional amendment makes clear that the intent of the reform is legalization for adult use, leaving little room for confusion.)

During his time as DEA administrator under President George W. Bush, Hutchinson made no such distinction between medical or recreational cannabis, overseeing raids against medical marijuana dispensaries in legal states that sparked protests and litigation.

The governor told police convention attendees on Wednesday that Responsible Growth Arkansas is “going to sell this as something that’s going to help law enforcement,” in part because the initiative calls for certain percentages of tax revenue from marijuana sales to support police departments and drug courts. “And so, once again, they’re selling a harmful drug to the citizens of Arkansas based upon promises that looks good.”

Those promises “might be a reality,” Hutchinson acknowledged, “but I think you’ve got to be prepared for this debate.” He told the officers to “stand firm” against the reform proposal.

Confusingly, the governor said that Alaska is an example of how cannabis policy changes backfire, referencing the fact that voters in 1990 approved a ballot measure overturning the state Supreme Court’s 1975 ruling that found the prohibition on personal possession and cultivation of marijuana to be unconstitutional.

He said that marijuana use increased following the Alaska court’s decision, and the subsequent vote showed that Alaskans “learned their lesson from that.” Missing from the governor’s recounting, however, is the fact that Alaska voters subsequently approved ballot initiatives to more broadly legalize medical cannabis in 1998 and commercial sales of recreational marijuana in 2014.

“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,” Hutchinson said, noting that polls show majority support for adult-use legalization in Arkansas. “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.”

Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones, who is running to replace the term-limited Hutchinson in this November’s election, endorsed the legalization ballot measure this week.

“Regardless of what one thinks personally about the prospect of legal recreational marijuana, the revenue created by this ballot initiative would support general fund investments that can unlock the potential of Arkansas—in areas like education starting with preschool, infrastructure starting with broadband, and economic development starting with jobs—while supporting the state drug court program, UAMS and law enforcement,” he said.

Jones’s Republican opponent, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, does not appear to have spoken publicly about the initiative.

Here’s what the campaign’s marijuana legalization initiative would accomplish: 

-Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis from licensed retailers.

-Home cultivation would not be allowed.

-The measure would make a series of changes to the state’s existing medical cannabis program that was approved by voters in 2016, including a repeal of residency requirements to qualify as a patient in the state.

-The state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division of the Department of Finance and Administration would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses.

-Regulators would need to license existing medical cannabis dispensaries to also serve adult consumers, and also permit them to open another retail location for recreational marijuana sales only. A lottery system would award licenses for 40 additional adult-use retailers.

-There are no provisions to expunge or seal past criminal records for marijuana or to provide specific social equity licensing opportunities for people from communities harmed by the war on drugs.

-The state could impose up to a 10 percent supplemental tax on recreational cannabis sales, in addition to the existing state and local sales tax.

-Tax revenue would be divided up between law enforcement (15 percent), the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (10 percent) and the state drug court program (five percent). The remaining revenue would go to the state general fund.

-People who own less than five percent of a marijuana businesses would no longer be subject to background checks.

-The legislature could not repeal of amend the state’s medical marijuana statutes without voter approval.

-Local governments could hold elections to prohibit adult-use retailers in their jurisdiction if voters approve the decision.

-Individuals could now own stake in more than 18 dispensaries.

-There would be advertising and packaging restrictions, including a requirement that marijuana products must be sold in tamper-resistant packages.

-Dispensaries would be able to cultivate and store up to 100 seedings, instead of 50 as prescribed under the current medical cannabis law.

A former Arkansas Democratic House minority leader, Eddie Armstrong, is behind the Responsible Growth Arkansas constitutional amendment, which he filed in January.

The group is just one of several campaigns that have pursued cannabis reform through the ballot this year, though backers of competing initiatives have since acknowledged they wouldn’t be able to collect enough signatures to qualify this year.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Supporters of the separate campaigns, Arkansas True Grass and Arkansans for Marijuana Reform, have raised concerns with the provisions of the Responsible Growth Arkansas initiative, suggesting it would favor big businesses in the existing medical cannabis industry. Some have said they may look to 2024 to try again with their own approaches.

Lancaster previously told Marijuana Moment that the campaign hopes that won’t be necessary. His campaign feels that the constitutional amendment provides a sound infrastructure for reform that prioritizes regulations—and the plan is to push for further reforms in the legislature if voters approve legalization at the polls. That would include efforts to promote expungements, which isn’t addressed by the initiative.

Arkansas is also not the only state where voters may see drug policy reform measures on their November ballots:

Colorado voters will have the chance to decide on a historic ballot initiative this November to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin “healing centers” where people can use the substance for therapeutic purposes.

In May, South Dakota officials certified that activists turned in a sufficient number of signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the November ballot.

Maryland lawmakers passed legislation this year, which the governor allowed to go into effect without his signature, that will put the issue of cannabis legalization before voters this November.

North Dakota activists turned in what they believe to be enough signatures to place a marijuana legalization initiative before voters.

Oklahoma activists also said they’ve submitted what they believe to be more than enough signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot.

Nebraska advocates recently submitted signatures for a pair of medical cannabis legalization initiatives. The campaign has faced several challenges along the way, including the loss of critical funding after a key donor passed away and a court battle of the state’s geographic requirements for ballot petitions.

A campaign to put cannabis legalization on the Missouri ballot may be in jeopardy, as early reporting shows that activists are coming up short on the required signatures in key districts.

An initiative to legalize marijuana will not appear on Ohio’s November ballot, the campaign behind the measure announced in May. But activists did reach a settlement with state officials in a legal challenge that will give them a chance to hit the ground running in 2023.

Michigan activists announced in June that they will no longer be pursuing a statewide psychedelics legalization ballot initiative for this year’s election and will instead focus on qualifying the measure to go before voters in 2024.

The campaign behind an effort to decriminalize drugs and expand treatment and recovery services in Washington State said in June that it has halted its push to qualify an initiative for November’s ballot.

While Wyoming activists said earlier this year that they made solid progress in collecting signatures for a pair of ballot initiatives to decriminalize marijuana possession and legalize medical cannabis, they didn’t get enough to make the 2022 ballot deadline and will be aiming for 2024 while simultaneously pushing the legislature to advance reform even sooner.

In March, California activists announced that they came up short on collecting enough signatures to qualify a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for the state’s November ballot, though they aren’t giving up on a future election cycle bid.

Meanwhile, there are various local reforms that activists want to see voters decide on this November—including local marijuana decriminalization ordinances in Ohio, West Virginia and Texas.

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Nevada Marijuana Regulators Announce Lotteries For State’s First Consumption Lounge Licenses



Nevada marijuana regulators announced on Wednesday that they will be holding lotteries at the end of the month to select 20 independent cannabis consumption lounge licensees, half of which will be reserved for social equity applicants.

The state Cannabis Compliance Board (CCB) said it will conduct “two drawings via a random number selector” on November 30 to determine which businesses will be the first to receive approval for independent consumption lounge licenses.

“The CCB anticipates the first lounges to be licensed and able to open during the first half of 2023,” a notice says.

Regulators said earlier this month that they received about 100 applications for the new license type during a 10-day application window in October.

These developments come more than a year after Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed a bill from Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D) legalizing consumption lounges.

Current retailers are able to apply for a separate license category to build lounges into their existing operations, and they are not subject to a competitive selection process. The lotteries are for independent lounge licenses for businesses that want to enter into a contract with a retailer to purchase and prepare ready-to-consume marijuana products for resale at brand new facilities.

CCB approved regulations for marijuana lounges over the summer. The law could also allow businesses that couple cannabis with yoga, serve infused food, offer THC-aided massage therapy or incorporate marijuana in other ways.

The governor touted Nevada’s lounge law in a 4/20 op-ed for Marijuana Moment this year, writing: “The idea isn’t new, but no one is doing it like we are in Nevada.”

“While most of the consumption lounges in other states don’t offer food, beverages or other entertainment options,” he said, “Nevada’s lounges will be a one-stop entertainment shop to create jobs, grow the industry and boost our economy.”

Under the board-approved rules, consumption must be hidden from public view. Smoking and vaping must take place in a separate room of the lounge or be prohibited entirely. Single-use or ready-to-consume cannabis products can’t be brought off-site. And businesses must provide water to every guest free of charge.

The lounges will also be cannabis-only. No alcohol, tobacco or nicotine products can be sold.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Other safety-related regulations require lounges to establish plans to limit cannabis-impaired driving and minimize workers’ exposure to secondhand smoke. Guns are prohibited, surveillance is required and procedures must be in place to reduce and respond to potentially violent or harassing behavior.

Single-use cannabis products are limited to no more than 3.5 grams of usable cannabis under the regulations, with “extracted inhalable cannabis products” (such as vaping or dabbing products) limited to 300 milligrams of THC. All single-use products with more than 1 gram of usable cannabis, and all extracted inhalables, must carry written potency warnings.

Individual servings of ready-to-consume edible products are capped at 10 milligrams THC, a fairly standard amount in states that have legalized cannabis for adult use.

Topicals, meanwhile, are limited to 400 milligrams of THC. Transdermal patches and all other cannabis products can have no more than 100 milligrams THC and must carry a written warning if they have more than 10 milligrams.

Marijuana sales totaled just under $1 billion in Nevada in the 2022 Fiscal Year, generating more than $152 million in cannabis tax revenue, officials reported this month. Most of the proceeds are going toward funding schools.

The hope is that the cannabis lounge option will further stimulate sales when those services launch.

Sisolak has committed to promoting equity and justice in the state’s marijuana law. In 2020, for example, he pardoned more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level cannabis possession. That action was made possible under a resolution the governor introduced that was unanimously approved by the state’s Board of Pardons Commissioners.

Meanwhile, a Nevada judge ruled last month that the Board of Pharmacy’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance violates the state Constitution and that the agency “exceeded its authority” by making that designation.

The ACLU of Nevada filed a lawsuit earlier this year, alleging that despite voter-approved legalization police have continued to make marijuana-related arrests because the Board of Pharmacy has refused to remove cannabis from its controlled substances list.

That has effectively created a legal “loophole” that the civil rights group says conflicts with long-standing constitutional protections for medical marijuana patients.

Separately, in August 2021, a former Las Vegas police officer who sued after facing termination for testing positive for marijuana scored a significant procedural victory, with a district judge denying the department’s request for summary judgement and agreeing that state statute protects employees’ lawful use of cannabis outside of work.

Iowa Regulators Recommend Marijuana Task Force Be Formed To Explore Federal Exemption For State’s Medical Program

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Iowa Regulators Recommend Marijuana Task Force Be Formed To Explore Federal Exemption For State’s Medical Program



An Iowa regulatory board has voted to recommend that the legislature create a legal task force to explore seeking an exemption protecting the state’s limited medical cannabis program from federal interference.

At a meeting of the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board last week, activist Carl Olsen proposed the task force, which he said should bring legal experts together to “carefully review the state, federal and international drug laws to come up with an application for an exception” under federal statutes.

Olsen has long been pushing the state to submit such an application, and the legislature did pass a bill in 2020 that required the state to seek the protections. But following months of delay, the advocate filed a lawsuit against the governor last year to compel the state to move forward with the application, and one state department did subsequently take steps to reach out to federal agencies about the process.

Board member Robert Shreck said at last week’s meeting that Olsen “thinks that the state can obtain an exemption from the restrictions on cannabis and, as far as I can tell from reading what he’s done, and he’s been very persistent about this, I think he’s correct.”

“This is the pathway to proceed to do this,” he said. “It’s been done half-heartedly by some parts of our government…at least, it hasn’t gone forward and been successful. But I would whole-heartedly support Carl’s recommendation. And I would propose that the board make that recommendation.”

Owen Parker, bureau chief the Medical Cannabidiol Board at the Iowa Department of Public Health, made a motion to vote on including Olsen’s task force recommendation in the board’s annual report to the legislature, and it passed unanimously.

It’s another modest win for Olsen, whose earlier lawsuit against the governor generated headlines and seemed to motivate the public health department to send letters about a cannabis law exception to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Education.

In 2020, DEA rejected a request for an exemption that was submitted by Olsen himself, but he has been hopeful that the result would be different with the state formally involved.

DEA regulations stipulate that the agency’s administrator “may grant an exemption in his discretion, but in no case shall he/she be required to grant an exception to any person which is otherwise required by law or the regulations.”

Relatedly, the Hawaii legislature adopted a resolution last year seeking an exemption from DEA stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Back in Iowa, the board separately voted to recommend to the legislature that it passes legislation to exempt medical cannabis products from the state sales tax and decouple cannabis taxes from a federal code known as 280E that precludes businesses from making tax deductions if they sell a Schedule I controlled substance like marijuana.

At the beginning of the year, Iowa Democratic senators released the text of a joint resolution to put the question of cannabis legalization before voters on the state’s ballot, but that did not ultimately advance.

Sens. Joe Bolkcom (D), Janet Petersen (D) and Sarah Trone Garriott (D), who first unveiled their marijuana reform plan last year, had said that inaction on the issue in the GOP-controlled legislature meant they needed to pursue the alternative route to end prohibition.

A bill to decriminalize cannabis possession did clear an Iowa Senate subcommittee early last year, but it also stalled. Another Senate panel separately approved a bill to reduce medical cannabis patient registration costs last year.

Irish Lawmaker Files Bill To Legalize Marijuana Possession For Adults, Draws Early Criticism From Top Government Official

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Irish Lawmaker Files Bill To Legalize Marijuana Possession For Adults, Draws Early Criticism From Top Government Official



An Irish lawmaker has filed a bill to legalize marijuana possession nationwide for adults 18 and older—but a top government official has already raised concerns about the reform proposal.

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny introduced the long-anticipated legislation on Thursday. It would legalize possession of up to seven grams of cannabis and 2.5 grams of marijuana resin for personal adult use.

The bill is currently before the Dáil Éireann, the lower chamber of Ireland’s legislature. It’s not clear if lawmakers from competing parties will work to advance it, but the the sponsor said that he expects the body to have a “wider debate” on cannabis reform “next year.”

“The bill itself is quite moderate. It’s amending existing legislation that dates back 42 years ago—and 42 years ago was a very, very long time,” Kenny said on the floor. “We need a different narrative in relation to drug reform, because criminalizing people for small possessions of any drug, particularly cannabis, is a complete waste of time and it’s a waste of resources.”

Watch Kenny discuss the marijuana legalization bill, starting around 4:15:00 into the video below:

While the sponsor has sought to distinguish the bill as decriminalization, rather than legalization, the bill itself says that possession of up to seven grams of marijuana by adults “shall be lawful,” even if there wouldn’t be a commercial market.

“I think there’s a groundswell of opinion, not only in Ireland, but across the world, for something very different—a different narrative and a different status quo, because the status quo at the moment doesn’t work,” he said.

Medical cannabis is legal in Ireland, but patients must be individually approved by the Health Ministry and there’s been some criticism of delays with the government’s rollout of the program, according to Volteface.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who serves as the head of Ireland’s government, has already signaled that he may represent a barrier to advancing the modest reform, warning about the consequences of “glamorizing” marijuana use ahead of the bill’s introduction.

The former health minister said that he’s “not necessarily” in favor of legalizing low-level possession and suggested that he considered the seven gram limit arbitrary, as The Independent reported. He also said “there are real concerns within the health community and the medical community about what cannabis can do to young people.”

“I will examine it and we will look at data and we’ll take advice from a number of disciplines—be it policing, be it health,” Martin said. “And certainly, I would prefer a system that decriminalizes in the sense that were there to help people with challenges with harmful substances such as cannabis.”

In an op-ed about his bill, Kenny pointed to a growing international movement to reform marijuana policies.

“There is precedent for Ireland to legislate for the decriminalization of cannabis for personal use,” he wrote. “Across the world countries are recognizing that prohibition of cannabis has not worked, it has only enriched and emboldened the black market.”

Indeed, marijuana reform efforts have picked up within governments of several European countries in recent years.

Germany’s Federal Cabinet recently approved a plan to legalize marijuana nationwide. But officials said that its fate ultimately rests in whether international and European policy allows the country to move ahead.

Over the summer, top officials from Germany, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands held a first-of-its-kind meeting to discuss plans and challenges associated with recreational marijuana legalization.

Malta became the first country in the European Union to legalize marijuana late last year.

A novel international survey that was released in April found majority support for legalization in several key European countries.

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