LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court said Thursday that voters can decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana, reversing a state panel’s decision to block the November ballot measure.
The judges granted a request from Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group behind the proposal, to certify the measure for the November ballot.
“The people will decide whether or not to approve the proposed amendment in November,” Judge Robin Wynne wrote in the court ruling.
The group behind the proposal appealed after the state Board of Election Commissioners blocked the initiative in August. Supporters submitted more than enough valid signatures from registered voters to qualify, but the proposal still needed board approval to appear on the ballot.
“We’re extremely grateful to the Supreme Court for agreeing with us and feeling like it was complete validation of everything we’ve done,” said Responsible Growth Arkansas attorney Steve Lancaster. . “We are thrilled and moving on to November.”
Because the deadline for certifying initiative titles has passed, the court had allowed the measure on the general election ballot while deciding whether votes will be counted.
Arkansas voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana. The proposed amendment would allow people 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and allow state-licensed dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana.
The Board of Election Commissioners rejected the measure after commissioners said they did not believe the ballot title fully explained to voters the impact of the amendment. Proponents of the measure argued that the council’s criticism went beyond what was required for ballot initiatives.
The judges rejected the council’s arguments to deny the measure, but the court also struck down the 2019 law that allowed the council to certify ballot measures. Prior to this law, ballot measures had to be reviewed by the Attorney General before petitions could be released.
Two conservative justices agreed the panel lacked the authority to reject the proposal, but said Arkansas’ Republican secretary of state also correctly found the proposal insufficient for the state ballot.
“The title of the proposed ballot is neither comprehensive enough to reveal the scope of the proposed amendment nor free from misleading omissions regarding child protection issues,” Justice Shawn Womack wrote in a separate opinion.
A spokesman said Secretary of State John Thurston, who chairs the board of election commissioners, had no comment on the decision.
Recreational marijuana is already legal in 19 states, and legalization proposals are on the ballot this fall in South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri and Maryland. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a proposal in that state would not appear on the ballot in November.
Responsible Growth Arkansas has raised more than $4 million to support Arkansas’ measure, primarily from medical marijuana companies. Safe and Secure Communities, a group formed to oppose the measure, has raised more than $2 million from an Arkansas poultry executive and an Illinois shipping executive who have supported Republican candidates.
The Family Council, another group campaigning against the measure, on Thursday called the legalization proposal a “recipe for disaster.”
Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration who opposed the proposal, did not immediately comment on the decision.