LITTLE ROCK — Supporters of a proposal to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in Arkansas expressed confidence Monday the measure would be before voters in November after turning in more than twice the number of signatures they originally submitted to the secretary of state’s office.
Members of the group Arkansans for Compassionate Care carted 19 boxes of petitions they said held 74,406 signatures into the secretary of state’s elections division at the state Capitol.
In its initial submission July 6, the group turned in 65,413 signatures but fell 26,012 short of the 62,507 valid signatures of registered voters needed to qualify for the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Under Arkansas law, the group had 30 days from the time the secretary of state declared the deficiency to make up the difference.
Melissa Fults, the group’s treasurer, said Monday that members were "naive" the first time out but that volunteers and paid canvassers were more pointed in their questions to people who signed petitions the second time.
"We’ve learned how to qualify people, to ask them when they voted last, where they voted, to make sure they really are registered voters," Fults said.
Ryan Denham, the group’s campaign director, said the effort also gained momentum from media coverage.
The proposed initiated act would allow up to 30 medical marijuana dispensaries in the state but would give cities and counties the option of banning them. The marijuana would only be available to people with prescriptions for certain health conditions, including chronic pain, glaucoma, Hepatitis C and those who are terminally ill.
The proposal would allow limited cultivation of marijuana by a qualifying patient, or the patient’s designated caregiver, if the patient live more than five miles from a dispensary.
At a news conference later Monday, several members of the group discussed how they would benefit from legalized medicinal marijuana. Among them was Emily Williams of Fayetteville, who was diagnosed with stage 3 lymphoma in 2010.
Williams said she used marijuana to be able to sleep and reduce the nausea she experienced as a result of radiation treatments. She said she went from continuous vomiting to vomiting once per treatment because of marijuana — though she did not use it as much as she needed to because she was afraid of exposing her family to the risk of arrest.
"If you vote against it, basically what you’re doing is looking at someone like me and the other people up here … and and you are telling us you really don’t care," Williams said.
The Christian conservative Family Council opposes the ballot initiative. Executive Director Jerry Cox said Monday that allowing certain people to grow their own marijuana would be a back-door means of legalizing it.
"It’s like saying everybody can make their own moonshine," he said.
Gov. Mike Beebe has said he does not support the measure because he fears it would be abused, but he does not plan to campaign against it.
Alex Reed, spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin, said Monday the office must submit ballot information to county clerks by Aug. 23, but that the office does not have to be finished validating signatures by then.
Votes for any ballot question that appears on the general election ballot but was not certified for the ballot may not be counted, Reed said.
Supporters of two other ballot measures that fell short of the signature threshold still have time to submit additional signatures.
Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment to increase the state severance tax have until Thursday to turn in more petitions, although their leader, former natural gas company executive Sheffield Nelson, has all but abandoned the effort.
Nancy Todd has until Aug. 22 to submit additional signatures for her proposed constitutional amendment to authorize casino-style games in four Arkansas counties.
Meanwhile, Texas businessman Michael Wasserman has petitioned the Arkansas Supreme Court to reverse Martin’s disqualification of his proposed constitutional amendment to operate casinos in seven Arkansas counties. Martin ruled Wasserman did not meet specific signature percentages in all counties where his supporters circulated petitions.