Arkansas Marijuana Activists Plan To Defend Legalization Ballot Initiative In State Supreme Court After Officials Decline To Certify | Big Indy News
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Arkansas Marijuana Activists Plan To Defend Legalization Ballot Initiative In State Supreme Court After Officials Decline To Certify

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Arkansas officials on Wednesday declined to certify a marijuana legalization initiative, meaning activists will likely need to defend the measure in the state Supreme Court in order to make the ballot.

While the secretary of state recently verified that activists with Responsible Growth Arkansas had turned in enough valid signatures to qualify, the Board of Election Commissioners still needed to accept the ballot title and popular name before the initiative could be formally certified for ballot placement.

But following testimony from supporters, the board voted in favor of a motion not to certify the measure, with some commissioners raising concerns about possible voter confusion over language related to issues such as THC limits.

Steve Lancaster, a spokesperson for the campaign, previously told Marijuana Moment that there was a realistic possibility that the board would challenge the measure’s form.

If it came to that, he said, the next course of action would be for activists to defend the initiative’s language in the Arkansas Supreme Court. It’s not clear how quickly they will move to litigate the board’s ruling, but time is running thin with just three months left before the election.

Should they prevail in court, however, activists say they feel confident that voters will approve it this November, especially considering how the campaign was able to gather more than double the required signatures for ballot placement.

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.

Meanwhile, a poll released in February found that 54 percent of Arkansans favor full adult-use legalization, compared to 32 percent who said it should be legal for medical use only and just around 11 percent who said it should be outright illegal.

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.

State Lawmakers Across The U.S. Call For Federal Marijuana Legalization And Banking Reform In Revised Resolution

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Justice Department Asks Federal Court For More Time In ‘Complex’ Safe Drug Consumption Site Case

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The Justice Department is asking a federal court for more time to respond in a lawsuit surrounding the legality of safe drug consumption sites where people could use currently illicit substances in a medically supervised environment. And while the would-be operators of the overdose prevention center at the center of the case have agreed to prior delay requests, they said they “did not consent” to this latest one and will be filing a motion in opposition on Tuesday.

The case, which was raised after DOJ under the Trump administration blocked Philadelphia-based non-profit Safehouse from opening a harm reduction facility, has seen repeated delays over the past three years.

Now the department is asking the court for additional time to submit its response, stating in a motion on Monday that it “believes an additional two months are necessary to permit careful consideration of the government’s harm reduction and public safety goals.”

“The discussions to date, which have involved coordination among multiple constituencies addressing a novel and complex subject matter, have been and continue to be productive,” it said, noting that DOJ had a status conference with Safehouse attorneys last month and “provided an update” to the court.

In February, DOJ said that it was “evaluating supervised consumption sites, including discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate guardrails for such sites, as part of an overall approach to harm reduction and public safety.”

While Safehouse has agreed to past deadline extension for DOJ filings, touting “productive” conversations as the Biden administration continues to review its policy on the harm reduction program, it is opposed to this latest delay.

“We believed we were making progress when DOJ announced in February 2021 that it was ‘evaluating’ its policy toward supervised consumption services and talking to state and local regulators about ‘appropriate guardrails’ that could enable Safehouse and similar public health initiatives nationwide to offer such services without fear of federal criminal and civil enforcement,” Safehouse said in an email to supporters on Monday.

“Safehouse did not consent to today’s DOJ request for more time and will be filing a motion in opposition tomorrow morning,” it said. “We are long overdue for a timeline as to when DOJ evaluations will be complete so that a life-saving initiative can begin.”

“Three to four people die of overdose every day in Philadelphia. Last year’s 1,276 fatal overdoses represented a record high in the city, and those we lost were among more than 100,000 people nationwide who died of overdoses.

Safehouse has been in litigation with DOJ since 2019 in our effort to open overdose prevention centers that include supervised consumption. These centers save lives and provide critical pathways to treatment, housing, and social services.”

DOJ now says it is seeking to file its “Amended Counterclaims for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief” by February 6, 2023. It seems to have filed the request for another delay with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania one day after the most recent court-approved deadline of Sunday.

In October 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing the Safehouse facilities.

In a recent report, congressional researchers highlighted the “uncertainty” of the federal government’s position on safe drug consumption sites, while pointing out that lawmakers could temporarily resolve the issue by advancing an amendment modeled after the one that has allowed medical marijuana laws to be implemented without Justice Department interference.

While the Philadelphia facility is being held up amid litigation, New York City opened the first locally sanctioned harm reduction centers in the U.S. late last year, and officials have already reported positive results in saving lives.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) pointed out the discrepancy, stating that while “DOJ actively opposed the operation of supervised consumption sites under the Trump Administration, to date the Biden Administration has not sought to invoke the [Controlled Substances Act] against such facilities.”

The report was published days after National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow tacitly endorsed the idea of authorizing safe consumption sites, arguing that evidence has effectively demonstrated that the facilities can prevent overdose deaths.

Volkow declined to specifically say what she would do if she were president and the Trump-era lawsuit was dropped, but she said that safe consumption sites that have been the subject of research “have shown that it has saved a significant [percentage of] patients from overdosing.”

The comments represent one of the strongest positions in favor of safe consumption sites to come from a federal official, and they’re all the more notable given the federal government’s position in the lawsuit that’s so far blocked Safehouse from providing the service.

That said, Rahul Gupta, the White House drug czar, recently said that the Biden administration is reviewing broader drug policy harm reduction proposals, including the authorization of supervised consumption sites—and he went so far as to suggest possible decriminalization.

A study published by the American Medical Association (AMA) in July found that the recently opened New York City facilities have decreased overdose risk, steered people away from using in public and provided other ancillary health services to people who use currently illicit substances.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) put out a pair of requests for applications (RFAs) in December 2021 for an effort that will provide funding for efforts to investigate how that and other harm reduction policies could help address the drug crisis.

Gupta, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), previously said that it’s critical to explore “any and every option” to reduce overdose deaths, and that could include allowing safe consumption sites for illegal substances if the evidence supports their efficacy.

The secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Xavier Becerra, has also signaled that the Biden administration would not move to block the establishment safe injection sites, stressing that “we are literally trying to give users a lifeline.”

But a department spokesperson later walked those remarks back, stating that “HHS does not have a position on supervised consumption sites” and the “issue is a matter of ongoing litigation.” In any case, it would be up to DOJ to decide whether to pursue operators of the facilities under the Controlled Substances Act.

In 2021, Rhode Island’s governor signed a bill establishing a pilot program to allow safe consumption sites to operate in the state.

A New York Assembly committee advanced a bill in May to establish a statewide safe consumption site program, allowing regulators to authorize facilities where people could use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.

In a pair of setbacks for advocates, however, Vermont’s governor vetoed a bill in June that would have simply created a working group tasked with crafting a plan to open safe consumption sites and the governor of California vetoed a bill in August to permit a pilot program for the harm reduction centers.

Read DOJ’s latest filings in the safe consumption site case below: 

Fate Of Marijuana Banking Reform Uncertain As Lawmakers Delay Defense Bill Consideration Amid Disagreements

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NDAA and cannabis provisions delayed (Newsletter: December 6, 2022)

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Biden HHS sec. tweets Marijuana Moment at 4:20; New top House Dem: Cannabis an “opportunity for common ground”; NJ banking bill; PA pardons problems

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Free to read (but not free to produce)! We’re proud of our newsletter and the reporting we publish at Marijuana Moment, and we’re happy to provide it for free. But it takes a lot of work and resources to make this happen. 

  • Alan Weinstein, Cleveland State University professor emeritus: “I pledged because I’m teaching Marijuana Law at CSU College of Law and your newsletter does a great job of covering current developments. I want the newsletter to continue doing that and the best way for me to ensure that is to provide financial support.”

If you value Marijuana Moment, invest in our success on Patreon so we can expand our coverage and more readers can benefit: https://www.patreon.com/marijuanamoment

/ TOP THINGS TO KNOW

The House Rules Committee was scheduled to take up the National Defense Authorization Act on Monday—along with possible marijuana banking and expungements provisions— but the text is not yet ready amid disagreements over a number of issues.

  • Meanwhile, the offices of several Senate Republicans met with the Department of Justice to discuss outstanding concerns about the cannabis legislation. Also, the “SAFE Plus” package will reportedly include measures on gun rights for marijuana consumers when it is formally unveiled.

Health and Human Services Sec. Xavier Becerra tweeted a Marijuana Moment article about the federal scheduling review he’s leading—at precisely 4:20PM. It’s the second time he’s shared cannabis news at the very symbolic hour of the day.

Incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said marijuana is an “opportunity for common ground” and bipartisanship in the new divided Congress next year.

The New Jersey Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee approved a bill to give state-level protections to banks and insurers that work with marijuana businesses.

The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons has approved only 231 of the more than 3,500 clemency applications it received under the governor’s Marijuana Pardon Project.

The Virginia Task Force to Analyze and Make Recommendations Regarding Whether Any Statutory or Regulatory Modifications are Necessary to Ensure the Safe and Responsible Manufacture and Sale of Industrial Hemp Extracts and Other Substances Containing Tetrahydrocannabinol that are Intended for Human Consumption in the Commonwealth issued a report recommending stricter rules for businesses that sell hemp-based delta-8 THC products.

/ FEDERAL

A federal court is being asked to overturn a Maine man’s marijuana conviction on constitutional grounds.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) is scheduled to speak at a Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants cannabis summit on Thursday.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) tweeted, “The momentum for #cannabis is real. The historic research bill signed by my friend @POTUS and @SenatorHick’s intro of #PrepareAct shows there is growing bipartisan support for a federal framework.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) tweeted, “Glad to see @POTUS sign this important bill into law. I helped pass it out of @EnergyCommerce and on the House floor so we can fill the gap in research on the health effects of marijuana and cannabis products.”

/ STATES

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) and the state attorney general are asking a federal judge to dismiss remaining claims in a lawsuit that is challenging the state’s ban on sales of certain hemp products.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said he supports decriminalizing fentanyl testing strips.

Florida’s agriculture commissioner tweeted, “As a champion for ending cannabis prohibition, I’m encouraged by the negotiations in Congress. More needs to be done as we move towards equitable legalization, but financial services access, expungement programs, & protecting our constitutional rights, are a great place to start.”

New Jersey’s Senate president spoke about ongoing efforts to ensure fairness and equity in the legal marijuana industry.

Nevada’s Assembly speaker-elect cheered the issuance of marijuana consumption lounge licenses under a bill he authored.

The Ohio House Finance Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on a marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday.

A Colorado representative tweeted photos of a tour she and another lawmaker took of a marijuana cultivation facility.

A New York assemblymember criticized nonprofits that offer substance misuse treatment for applying for and receiving licenses to sell legal marijuana.

A Michigan judge upheld regulators’ decision to suspend a marijuana business’s license over allegedly unacceptable levels of banned pesticides, heavy metals, mold and bacteria.

The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy filed a lawsuit alleging that businesses have been manufacturing and selling THC edibles with illegal potency levels and in shapes that could appeal to children.

Rhode Island’s top marijuana regulator spoke about the rollout of legal recreational sales, saying he doesn’t expect that cannabis use in the state will “increase noticeably.”

California regulators filed changes to rules on marijuana cultivation licenses.

Oregon regulators are considering changes to rules on marijuana plant tagging requirements.

A draft Washington State regulators’ report on marijuana potency was leaked. Separately, the Hemp Commission Task Force sent a report to lawmakers

The Virginia State Crime Commission discussed marijuana-impaired driving and other issues.

Vermont regulators will review recommendations for marijuana license approvals and social equity status on Wednesday.

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights is hosting an event on cannabis policies on Wednesday.

New Hampshire’s Therapeutic Cannabis Medical Oversight Board will meet on Wednesday.


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.

/ LOCAL

New York City officials posted tips about safer cannabis use.

/ INTERNATIONAL

Former Colombian President Iván Duque said he wishes he was more vocal about pushing for a demand-side solution to the war on drugs while in office.

Cayman Islands lawmakers are expected to consider advancing a marijuana decriminalization referendum this week.

The Uruguayan government is moving to allow pharmacies to sell marijuana with greater THC potency levels.

Guyana’s health minister said that a new law diverting people possessing small amounts of marijuana from incarceration to mandatory counseling has created a need to train more counselors.

/ SCIENCE & HEALTH

A study found that “regular cannabis use appears to suppress the impact of HIV on spontaneous and oscillatory alpha deficits in the left inferior frontal cortex and [dorsolateral prefrontal cortices].”

A review concluded that “the endocannabinoid system is a prominent target for the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid diseases, viral infections, neurological and psychological pathologies, and cancer.”

/ ADVOCACY, OPINION & ANALYSIS

The Indiana Democratic Party tweeted, “What’s there to discuss? 80% of Hoosiers want to legalize cannabis in some form. It’s past time for discussion – cannabis legalization is a win-win economic opportunity that will create a brighter future for the Hoosier State.”

The Independent Community Bankers of America tweeted, “With the debate over ICBA-advocated cannabis banking legislation picking up as some policymakers express concerns and others confidence in the bill’s passage, ICBA urges #communitybankers to continue speaking out.”

The Washington Examiner editorial board is urging Congress not to legalize marijuana.

A Responsibility.org staffer authored an op-ed about the dangers of marijuana-impaired driving.

/ BUSINESS

NCR Corp. and other providers are reportedly moving to shut down cashless ATMs at marijuana dispensaries.

Aurora Cannabis Inc. repurchased approximately C$102.5 million worth of its convertible senior notes.

A former CannTrust Holdings Inc. director of quality and compliance said the growth of cannabis in unlicensed rooms was “very openly discussed” at the company.

Filament Health says it created medical grade ayahuasca.

Missouri dispensaries sold a record $35.56 million worth of medical cannabis products in November.

Make sure to subscribe to get Marijuana Moment’s daily dispatch in your inbox.

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.



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Biden’s Health Secretary Shares Marijuana Scheduling News At 4:20—Again

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The Biden administration’s top health official on Monday tweeted a link to a Marijuana Moment article that discusses the president’s recent administrative cannabis scheduling directive.

U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra posted the link at precisely 4:20pm ET—the second time during his tenure that he shared marijuana policy news at that symbolic time.

Federal officials have tweeted plenty of cannabis policy news in the past, and they typically wouldn’t warrant individualized coverage. But in this case, the official heads up a top department that plays a critical role in an active marijuana scheduling review—and the 4:20 timing of the post did not go unnoticed.

As most readers will likely understand, 4:20, 4/20 and 420 are nods to cannabis culture. And while the timing of this post could perhaps be chalked up to coincidence, it’s not the first time that Becerra’s official government Twitter account has shared marijuana news at exactly that time.

On the day the President Joe Biden first announced his scheduling review, the secretary’s account posted a tweet noting the action at 4:20pm ET, saying that he looks forward to working with the U.S. attorney general to fulfill the administrative mandate.

Of course, officials don’t usually tweet their own content from these government accounts, so one might reasonably infer that it could be a cheeky staffer scheduling the posts.

Marijuana Moment reached out to HHS for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.

“At the direction of @POTUS, we’re continuing to examine how marijuana is scheduled,” Becerra said in the new tweet accompanying the article link. “We’re looking at what the evidence tells us—and that will guide what we do.”

That’s the gist of what he’s said repeatedly since the president issued the scheduling review directive in early October. Biden also granted a mass marijuana pardon for Americans who’ve committed federal possession offenses and encouraged governors to follow suit at the state level.

“We’re going to take a look at what science tells us and what the evidence tells us,” Becerra, who has a considerable record supporting cannabis reform as a congressman and as California’s attorney general, said at the recent overdose prevention event. “That will guide what we do—and we hope that will guide what the federal government does.”

Following the president’s cannabis pardons and scheduling announcement, the secretary said that the department would “work as quickly as we can” to carry out the scientific review. And he’s already discussed the issue with the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to that end.

Separately, the White House drug czar said recently that that the president’s action was “historic,” adding that there are “clearly” medical benefits of cannabis.

Like HHS, DOJ has similarly committed to quickly carrying out the separate scheduling review the president directed, which could result in a recommendation to place cannabis in a lower schedule or remove it altogether, effectively legalizing the plant under federal law.

Separately, Biden recently cheered a move by Oregon’s governor to grant tens of thousands of marijuana pardons this week, which followed his own federal clemency action. And he says other states should “follow Oregon’s example.”

The president also officially signed a marijuana research bill into law last week, making history by enacting the first piece of standalone federal cannabis reform legislation in U.S. history.

A series of polls have shown that Americans strongly support the president’s pardon action, and they also don’t think that marijuana should be federally classified as a Schedule I drug.

Meanwhile, House lawmakers on Monday delayed committee consideration of a large-scale defense bill—which advocates had hoped to see advance with marijuana reform provisions attached—amid disagreements over several key issues that have not been resolved. And the offices of several Republican senators met with the Department of Justice to discuss their concerns with pending cannabis banking reforms.

Fate Of Marijuana Banking Reform Uncertain As Lawmakers Delay Defense Bill Consideration Amid Disagreements



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