LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas election officials approved a medical marijuana proposal for the ballot Wednesday, putting two measures to legalize the drug for patients with certain conditions before voters this fall.
Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office said supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment turned in 97,284 valid signatures from registered voters, exceeding the 84,859 needed to qualify for the ballot. Martin’s office in July approved a competing medical marijuana proposal for the ballot.
Arkansas voters narrowly rejected a medical marijuana proposal in 2012, and the prospect of competing plans has worried some advocates who say it could doom both measures. David Couch, the sponsor of the measure approved Wednesday, said he wasn’t concerned.
"I don’t think there will be any problem differentiating between the two," Couch said.
Both proposals would allow patients with certain medical conditions to buy marijuana from dispensaries, but differ in their regulations and restrictions. For example, the proposal that had been approved earlier for the ballot allows patients to grow their own marijuana if they don’t live near a dispensary while the latest measure doesn’t.
Melissa Fults, who heads the campaign for the competing measure, acknowledged that having two proposals on the ballot would be difficult but said she didn’t think it would necessarily doom both.
"It will be our job to educate voters and help them understand there are two initiatives on the ballot and they can vote for both or they can vote for one," Fults said. "It’s the voter’s choice."
Both proposals face opposition from some of the state’s most powerful lobbying groups. A coalition of groups including the state Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Farm Bureau and social conservatives has formed to campaign against the measures and asked the state Supreme Court to block Fults’ measure.
State Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, a spokesman for the group, said it’s weighing a similar challenge against Couch’s proposal. Bledsoe said the group’s strategy remains the same, no matter how many proposals go before voters.
"Our strategy is simply making sure the voters of Arkansas understand the legislation and understand the ramifications for businesses, schools, landlords and taxpayers," Bledsoe said.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who headed the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, has also opposed the measures and has said legalizing the drug would be a drain on state resources. State Democrats, meanwhile, last weekend approved a platform that supports medical marijuana generally but doesn’t take a stance on either ballot measure.