LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas voters could see multiple attempts to legalize medical marijuana on the ballot next year.
Two groups are vying to put similar proposed initiated acts before voters in 2014 after a push to legalize medical marijuana narrowly failed in the November 2012 general election.
This week, a measure from a group called Arkansans for Responsible Medicine moved a step closer to voters when Attorney General Dustin McDaniel certified its popular name and ballot title. That organization can now begin gathering signatures in an effort to qualify for a spot on next year’s ballot.
Another group, Arkansans for Compassionate Care 2014, hopes to start collecting signatures soon, too.
Both groups need 62,507 signatures in order for their proposals to be eligible for the ballot.
For now, Arkansans for Compassionate Care 2014 is working on a revised proposal after McDaniel on Tuesday rejected a request to certify the group’s ballot title and popular name. Spokeswoman Shannon Steece said the organization plans to address what McDaniel called ambiguities and resubmit another similar measure.
The proposals from both groups would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase marijuana from nonprofit dispensaries. However, unlike last year’s proposal and the current one from Arkansans for Compassionate Care 2014, the proposal from Arkansans for Responsible Medicine would not allow certain patients to grow their own marijuana.
David Couch, legal counsel for Arkansans for Responsible Medicine, said the so-called "grow-your-own" provision was a sticking point with some voters last year.
"There’s just no way to adequately address or deal with someone who grows it in their own house," Couch said. "It’s impossible to regulate what you’ve got growing in your backyard or in your kitchen."
Couch, who worked with Arkansans for Compassionate Care last year, said he doesn’t envision joining forces with that group this year.
"I think that if there are two proposals and there are two campaigns on the ballot, I think the discussion about medical marijuana will actually drive more people to the poll to vote on this particular issue because ... it is medicine and it should be regulated," Couch said.
Jerry Cox, the founder and president of the conservative Little Rock-based Family Council, disagreed.
"This is not about medicine," Cox said. "It’s about legalizing marijuana."
Cox, who opposes the marijuana-related proposals, said he’s not sure how the possibility of having multiple marijuana issues on the ballot would play out.
"On the one hand, one might say, ‘Well, if the pro-marijuana people start to argue among themselves, does that hurt their ability to get their measure passed?’" Cox said. "On the other hand, if marijuana is in the news more and more, does that get more people out to vote for it or does it energize people that are against it? I just don’t know the answer to that."
A third group, Arkansans For Medical Cannabis, is awaiting a decision from McDaniel after it resubmitted a revised proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana.
That proposal — unlike the two proposed initiated acts — calls for ending a prohibition on the cannabis plant, not just legalizing medical marijuana.
Amendments need 78,133 signatures to be eligible for the ballot. McDaniel must first certify the measure’s ballot title and popular name before the group could begin collecting signatures.
Some, including Couch, doubt that Arkansans For Medical Cannabis’s proposal will make it on the ballot, but spokesman Robert Reed said he’s confident that the measure will reach voters.
"I honestly believe that once we’re approved by the attorney general and we jump through those hopes that we will have absolutely no problem getting it on the ballot," Reed said.
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