Two petitions for medical cannabis legalization are circulating around Arkansas. Last year, medical cannabis initiatives lost by aslim margin of 49 to 51. This year, activists are much more hopeful. Arkansans for Compassionate Care is the sponsor for the Arkansas for Medical Cannabis Act, which aims to legalize the possession of medical cannabis for qualified patients with a health care provider’s recommendation. If approved, Arkansas will be the first southern state to legalize medical cannabis. The act needs 62,000 signatures by July 2014 to be placed on the ballot.
Change on the horizon in Arkansas
Despite a valiant effort last election to bring more sanity to Arkansas’ marijuana laws, Arkansas has not yet caught up with the clear trend of history. According to a recent poll, 77% of Americans believe medical marijuana should be available as an option for seriously ill patients. Unfortunately, Arkansas’ compassionate medical marijuana initiative — Issue 5 — fell just short of passage, getting nearly 49% of the vote in November 2012.
Meanwhile, the state’s elected officials did not present any marijuana policy reform bills during the last session, which adjourned in April 2013. Still, the progress made by the medical marijuana campaign shows that day will come soon, and the support Issue 5 got from voters sent a clear message to legislators that change is coming. Make your voice for heard, and write to your legislators now and encourage them to create an effective medical marijuana law.
In addition to failing to protect vulnerable patients, Arkansas legislators missed a chance to free up officers’ time to focus on crimes with victims. In 2011, there were 5,665 marijuana arrests reported by state law enforcement. Of those arrests, 89% were for marijuana possession. During the same year, 91% of all motor vehicle thefts and 92% of all burglaries went unsolved. Law enforcement should stop wasting time on marijuana-related offenses and use its resources to stop real crime.
Recent victories in Washington and Colorado are showing that it makes sense to take marijuana off the criminal market, legalize it for adults, and tax and regulate it similarly to alcohol. Now, legislators around the country are taking notice, and, in fact, it’s just what a majority of Americans want. Why not ask your legislators to support a similar proposal in Arkansas?
Marijuana Laws in Arkansas
Possession of less than four ounces of marijuana in Arkansas is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 (A.R.C. §5-64-419). Possession of an ounce of marijuana or more by those who have twice been convicted of possession is a class D felony, punishable by imprisonment for up to six years and a fine of up to $6,000. In addition to wasting law enforcement time on victimless marijuana offenses, did you know that marijuana enforcement has been extremely unequal in Arkansas? African-Americans in Arkansas are over three times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana compared with whites, although both black and white populations consume marijuana at similar rates. To learn more about how the war on marijuana can be used to discriminate against African-Americans in the U.S. and in Arkansas, check out the ACLU’s recent report.