LITTLE ROCK — A coalition of Christian conservative groups petitioned the Arkansas Supreme Court on Friday to disqualify a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana for medical use in Arkansas.
The Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values contended in its filing Friday that the measure is incomplete, misleading, too lengthy and in violation of state and federal law.
"We believe that this measure’s ballot title and popular name do not accurately reflect the true nature of the entire proposal," Jerry Cox, director of the Family Council Action Committee, said during a news conference at the state Capitol.
Other members of the coalition include the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, Families First Council and the Arkansas Family Coalition.
The secretary of state’s office last week certified the proposed Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act for the Nov. 6 general election ballot after determining that its sponsors had submitted the required 62,507 signatures of registered voters to qualify the measure to go before voters.
Larry Page, director of the Faith and Ethics Council, suggested at the news conference that getting marijuana use approved for medicinal purposes was the first step in a plan to eventually legalize marijuana across the board in Arkansas.
Page said states that currently have marijuana for medical use laws, like Colorado, have seen an increase in general marijuana use and trafficking.
"This has never been primarily about effective and smart medical advancements. Many of those who have and are driving this issue have revealed what it is really about — the full and unrestricted use of recreational marijuana," Page said.
Page also challenged the claim by supporters of the proposal that their’s is grassroots campaign. Nearly 90 percent of the $264,408 that Arkansans for Compassionate Care spent to get the necessary signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot came from Washington, D.C-based Marijuana Policy Project, he said.
Interviewed later, ACC spokesman Chris Kell said much of what Page and Cox said during the news conference was not accurate.
Kell said the Marijuana Policy Project officials work on marijuana policy reform in a number of states and agreed to help fund his group after they saw there was a chance of getting enough signatures to get the proposal on the ballot.
"The (coalition) … is trying to deny the rights of Arkansas citizens to put the question of medical marijuana on the ballot," Kell said. "Arkansas voters are savvy and compassionate. They understand this bill provides a proven blueprint to state regulation of medical marijuana. They also understand that the federal government has decided not to pursue patients of dispensaries that comply with state law."
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 lives more than five miles from a dispensary.
In its filing Friday, the coalition argued that the initiative’s name and ballot title fail to convey the scope of the proposal. It asserts that, at 8,700 words, the measure is too long for a voter to have enough time in the voting booth to reasonably be advised of its impact.
The legal challenge notes that the proposal does not specifically state that marijuana is an illegal schedule I substance or that a person may be arrested and charged for cultivating, possessing, using or delivering marijuana under federal law.
The coalition also argues that the proposal is invalid because it would conflict with state and federal constitutional provisions barring states from passing any laws that would impair the obligation of contracts. The proposed act would prohibit landlords from refusing "to enroll or lease to, or otherwise penalize an individual solely for his or her status" as a medical marijuana-qualified patient or care giver.
The filing notes that the Arkansas Medical Practice Act makes it illegal for a physician to provide or prescribe an illegal drug, but that the medical marijuana proposal would permit such an act. It also points to a provision that would create an affirmative defense to illegal drug possession that "will be stifling" to enforcement and prosecution for violations of state drug laws.
The coalition asked the state’s highest court to declare the measure legally insufficient and that any votes cast for the measure not be counted or certified.