Oct 26, 2022 - Politics

Issue 4 is a nail-biter

Illustration of a thumbs up and a thumbs down with ballot elements in the background.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Arkansas' ballot Issue 4 on legalizing recreational marijuana needs just over 50% of the votes in the midterm election to pass.

State of play: A recent poll by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College indicated that about 53% of Arkansans support legalizing recreational marijuana, while about 32% say it should be allowed for medical reasons only. About 10% said marijuana should not be legalized.

Yes, and: A separate survey by the same organizations indicated that just over 50% of likely voters are definitely or probably in favor of Issue 4.

What they’re saying: Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group that gathered signatures to get Issue 4 on the ballot, has highlighted the sales tax revenue the state would receive as well as the funding for law enforcement, drug court programs and UAMS. The group also cites new jobs and the ability for adults to safely purchase marijuana as reasons to vote for the amendment.

The big picture: Legalizing pot is part of a national trend. Advocates argue that regulated marijuana is safer than buying off the streets and that arresting or jailing people for marijuana use or possession is a waste of law enforcement’s time and money.

  • Issue 4 can prevent some future convictions, as it will be legal to possess up to 1 ounce.
  • Recreational marijuana is legal in 19 states and D.C.
  • President Biden announced this month he will pardon all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession.

The other side: Reasons for opposing the amendment vary from those who oppose legalizing recreational marijuana to those who say they support legalization but have problems with this amendment, arguing it gives money and power to the marijuana industry but doesn’t do enough to help those traditionally hurt by anti-marijuana laws.

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he will vote no on the amendment, arguing recreational marijuana leads to increased drug use among minors and more dangerous roadways. Hutchinson is a former administrator at the Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • Melissa Fults, a longtime advocate for marijuana legalization and executive director of the nonprofit Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, says she does not support this amendment because it doesn’t expunge records for those previously convicted of marijuana possession and doesn’t decriminalize growing marijuana at home, a cheaper option. She notes that poor people have historically been targeted for marijuana possession arrests.
  • State Sen. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) tweeted he supports legalizing recreational marijuana but will vote no on Issue 4 because it "hands a small number of companies full control of the industry, guaranteeing they’ll never face competition."

Zoom in: Erik Danielson, co-owner of The Source dispensary in Rogers, tells Axios the business will "100%" sell recreational marijuana if Issue 4 passes. One of the reasons The Source moved from its original building in Bentonville to a larger facility was in anticipation of expanding to recreational marijuana, he said.

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