Drug reformers in Arkansas got a pleasant surprise this week when the University of Arkansas' annual Arkansas Poll revealed that nearly two out of three Arkansas are ready to support medical marijuana in the state. The news is especially welcome, given that the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Campaign is in the initial stages of signature gathering in an effort to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November 2002 ballot.
The poll, conducted October 8-17 by the University of Arkansas Research Center, found that 63% of Arkansans surveyed favored medical marijuana under a doctor's supervision, while 32% were opposed. The remaining 5% either had no opinion or refused to answer the question.
"This poll tells me we're making lots of progress," said Denele Campbell of the state's Drug Policy Education Group, which is involved in educational work around medical marijuana and other drug policy issues. "Not only the favorable results, but the fact that the poll even asked the question, is an important acknowledgment of what we are doing," she told DRCNet. "We are beginning to be taken seriously by the state media, and the poll has only helped in that regard."
Campbell was also quick to point out that drug reformers did not commission the poll.
She was not alone in her estimation of the poll's significance. Dr. Janine Perry, assistant professor of political science at the university and director of the poll, told the Texarkana Gazette that the poll results "could have an impact on public policy, particularly because of the statewide petition to put a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot."
The initiative campaign, modeled on Oregon's medical marijuana law, is just getting underway, according to Campbell. "We only have 5,000 signatures right now and we need 56,000," she told DRCNet. "That means we want to get 100,000 signatures, so we can ensure that we make the 56,000 certified signatures necessary." But, she added, the campaign has until July 2002 to obtain the signatures.
"We are pursuing medical marijuana on two tracks at the same time," she said. "We are following the initiative route, but at the same time we are also meeting privately with interested legislators, and we think we have a good chance of getting a medical marijuana bill to move in the legislature when it meets again in January 2003."
Even the two-track medical marijuana campaign is only a part of the broader agenda for Arkansas drug reformers, said Campbell. A set of drug reform organizations has emerged in the state within the last two years, including the Drug Policy Education Group (http://www.dpeg.org) and the movement's lobbying arm, ARDPArk, the Alliance for the Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas (http://www.ardpark.org), and grown from there.
"As with any grassroots campaign, we began with no organization and no money, but we've been building support ever since," said Campbell. "Now we have about 400 supporters on our mailing list and a crew of 30 to 50 who turn out for events. The medical marijuana campaign has given us the base we needed to move into a broader discussion of drug policy reform, so we are starting to move in that direction. We have just started an 11-person speakers' bureau. We haven't really pushed the public until now, but now we are ready to start," she added.
"We are taking aim at racial profiling and mandatory minimum sentences, now, too," said Campbell. "One of our people is on the state police commission, so we're attempting to get to the state director of police. If we do our work properly on sentencing, we should be able to get action in the state legislature in 2003," she added.