LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a challenge to a ballot issue that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
In a unanimous decision, the state’s top court said it would not remove the measure from the Nov. 8 ballot, as Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana had asked the court to do in a lawsuit.
The coalition argued in the suit that the measure’s ballot title falsely states that the proposed initiated act would limit marijuana use, but the measure would impose no limit on the amount of marijuana a person could use.
In an 11-page opinion written by Justice Josephine Hart, the court said the measure would limit the use of marijuana to its medical use, limit possession of it to certain amounts and limit the amount that a dispensary could dispense, so “the ballot title is not false in providing that the act creates limits on marijuana use.”
The suit also alleged that the ballot title falsely gives the impression the measure would limit the number of dispensaries, or “cannabis care centers,” when in fact the measure would allow one dispensary for every 20 pharmacies in the state, with a provision allowing the state Department of Health to license more dispensaries if it determines that more are needed to provide convenient access.
The court said the ballot title does not claim that there would be an absolute limit on the number of dispensaries and said it is “complete enough to convey an intelligible idea of the scope and import of the proposed law.”
The proposal would allow home cultivation of marijuana by qualifying people who live more than 20 miles from a dispensary. The suit alleged that the ballot title gives the false impression that home-grown marijuana would be tested, but the Supreme Court disagreed, saying it is clear that the language about testing refers to marijuana at dispensaries.
The coalition also argued that the ballot title fails to inform voters that dispensaries could sell food and drink containing marijuana. The court said in its opinion that “it is not necessary that a ballot title include every possible consequence or impact of a proposed measure.”
The suit further alleged that the ballot title does not explain to voters the impact the measure would have on employers, landlords, churches and schools. The court said it is sufficient that the ballot title states that people would not be subject to discrimination for engaging in or assisting the medical use of marijuana.
The court also rejected a claim in the suit that the ballot title uses partisan coloring to appeal to voters’ compassion.
Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana includes the Arkansas Committee for Ethics Policy, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities and the Family Council Action Committee. Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council Action Committee, said Thursday the Supreme Court “has made a very poor decision.”
“This proposal is over 10,000 words long,” he said. “From a legal standpoint, it is extremely complicated. It doesn’t simply legalize marijuana. It also affects criminal law, employment laws, property laws and education laws. It increases the workload of the Arkansas Department of Health. None of that is clear if all you have to go on is the measure’s title that appears on the ballot. It is not fair to ask Arkansans to vote on a proposal that is so vague and complicated.”
Melissa Fults, campaign manager for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group sponsoring the measure, said Thursday, “We are pleased with today’s ruling from the Supreme Court on the challenge to Issue 7’s ballot title and are moving forward with the hopes of the same outcome for the lawsuit challenging our signatures.”
Pulaski County resident Kara Benca has filed a suit alleging numerous problems with the suits that Arkansans for Compassionate Care submitted to the secretary of state’s office to get the measure on the ballot.
A separate measure on the ballot, Issue 6, would legalize medical marijuana through a constitutional amendment. Arkansans Against Legalized Medical Marijuana also has filed a suit with the state Supreme Court challenging that proposal.