|Updated: 9/27/2012 5:26 pm
||Published: 9/27/2012 9:27 am
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a proposed ballot measure that, if successful, would make the state the first in the South to legalize medical marijuana.
Justices rejected a challenge by a coalition of conservative groups who had asked the court to block the proposed initiated act from the November ballot or order the state to not count any votes cast on the issue.
The measure would allow patients with qualifying conditions to buy marijuana from nonprofit dispensaries with a doctor's recommendation. The proposal acknowledges that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values argued that it doesn't adequately explain that approved users could still face federal prosecution.
"We hold that it is an adequate and fair representation without misleading tendencies or partisan coloring," the court wrote. "Therefore, the act is proper for inclusion on the ballot at the general election on Nov. 6, 2012, and the petition is therefore denied."
Arkansas will be the first Southern state to put the medical marijuana question to voters. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized it in some fashion. Massachusetts voters are also expected to vote on the issue this fall, while the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled a medical marijuana initiative can't appear on that state's ballot.
Jerry Cox, the head of the Arkansas Family Council and a member of the coalition, declined to comment immediately on the ruling and said opponents planned a news conference later Thursday morning. The conservative coalition argued that Arkansas' 384-word ballot question doesn't accurately describe other consequences of passing the 8,700-word law, including a provision that would allow minors to use medical marijuana with parental consent.
Justices disagreed and said the proposed law is fairly summarized in the question that will appear on the ballot.
"Here, after reviewing the ballot title of 384 words, we conclude that the title informs the voters in an intelligible, honest and impartial manner of the substantive matter of the act," the ruling said.
The group behind the measure, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, told the court it believes the measure is sufficiently fair to go before voters. David Couch, an attorney for the group, said he was pleased with the ruling and said it allowed them to shift gears to building support for the measure's passage.
"Now that we've passed muster with the Supreme Court we'll begin our campaign to show the people of the state of Arkansas that this is truly a compassionate measure," Couch said.
Under the proposal, qualifying health conditions would include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS and Alzheimer's disease. The proposal also would allow qualifying patients or a designated caregiver to grow marijuana if the patient lives more than 5 miles from a dispensary.
The conservative coalition's members include leaders of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, the Family Council Action Committee and the Families First Foundation.
Past efforts to put medical marijuana on the ballot in Arkansas have faltered, though voters in two cities in the state have approved referendums that encourage police to regard arrests for small amounts of marijuana as a low priority.
Supporters of the current proposal mounted an organized and well-funded campaign that surprised many political observers. Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group advocating for the measure, won ballot access after submitting far more than the required 62,500 signatures.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Court leaves marijuana act on ballot, group vows to fight it
LITTLE ROCK, AR- Thursday, the Arkansas Supreme Court handed down a decision allowing the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act to remain on the November General Election ballot. The Court denied a request by the
Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values to have the measure removed from the ballot.
The Court disagreed with assertions by the group that the measure’s popular name and ballot title would mislead voters.
“We’ve shifted into campaign mode” Coalition spokesman Larry Page said in a release.. “We respect the Court’s decision, but we are very disappointed that this flawed measure will appear on the ballot.”
Coalition member Jerry Cox said that the campaign would focus on getting the word out to churches across the state and on encouraging other groups, like law enforcement, to get more involved.
“This decision does not change the fact that the ballot title is vague and misleading,” Cox said.
“When voters step into the voting booths on November 6, they will not be able to determine exactly what this measure does and how far-reaching it really is. The popular name and ballot title do not define any of the legal terms that appear in the measure. Not a single one. Based on this ballot title, voters will have no way of knowing what medical conditions qualify a person to use marijuana under this measure. They will have no way of knowing how much marijuana a person may possess under this measure. The ballot title implies that a marijuana user cannot go to prison under federal law if this passes—even though there is no way state law can trump federal law. The purpose of a ballot title is to give voters a very clear, accurate picture of what they are voting on when they step into that voting booth. This ballot title clearly does not do that.”
The Coalition had petitioned the Court to remove the measure from the ballot based on what they saw as insufficiencies in the popular name and ballot title. They contended that the ballot title failed to define terms like “marijuana dispensary,” and it failed to disclose how much marijuana a person could possess and which medical conditions would qualify a person to use marijuana.
They also said that most voters would not be aware that this measure would allow citizens to grow their own marijuana and that it would not be dispensed through a pharmacy.
Bill Wheeler, Executive Director of Families First Action Committee, said he believes families will suffer if the measure passes this November. “With marijuana users being able to grow their own marijuana at home, that is going to impact neighborhoods and communities. If word gets out your next door neighbor is growing marijuana at home, his house is going to entice thieves and other criminals. That’s going to affect you and your family. It will affect everything from everything from property values to how safe you and your kids feel just walking down the street. No good can come from that.”
The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act would allow doctors to issue a certificate to anyone with a “qualifying medical condition” to grow, process, and use marijuana. In addition, it would allow the establishment of approximately 30 “marijuana dispensaries” where usable marijuana, marijuana seeds and seedlings, as well as “marijuana material” would be sold. The dispensaries would be able to grow marijuana as well. Marijuana users would be able to grow their own marijuana if they live more than five miles from a dispensary.
Arkansans for Compassionate Care respond to Supreme Court ruling
LITTLE ROCK, AR — The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled today in favor of allowing Arkansans to vote this November on Issue #5, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, a comprehensive blueprint for establishing and regulating a medical marijuana program in Arkansas, run by the Arkansas Department of Health.
The Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values, led by Jerry Cox, filed a lawsuit against the act in early September, attempting to use the courts to circumvent Arkansas citizens and ignore the wishes of the more than 120,000 Arkansas citizens that signed Arkansan's for Compassionate Care's medical marijuana petition last year.
"Mr. Cox's lawsuit revolved around technicalities and loopholes—and our state's Supreme Court saw right through it," Arkansans for Compassionate Care's spokesperson Christopher Kell said in a release.
"We're happy to have this legal issue behind us and look forward to educating the people of Arkansas on the medicinal properties of marijuana and how the patients of this state will benefit when this issue passes."