The Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org) has shut down its Arkansas affiliate and called off its effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the state ballot this November. But local organizers who have been working on the issue for the last five years vowed to continue in a last push to reach the required number of valid signatures.
"Arkansas has become an extremely costly state to advertise in because it is one of the 17 battleground states in the presidential election," said Chloe Crater, spokesperson for the now disbanded MPP affiliate Arkansas Coalition for Compassionate Care. "After a few days of careful thought and consideration, it became apparent that at this time it would not be advantageous for us to use up our resources here in Arkansas," she explained.
It wasn't just costs in Arkansas that had MPP concerned, said Crater. "The Bush and Kerry campaigns are buying up extraordinary amounts of TV airtime in some of the states where the Marijuana Policy Project is running other campaigns, sending costs through the roof," Crater said. "As a result, they felt they had to reassess their priorities.
There is disappointment and frustration among the patients here, and understandably so," Crater conceded. "But it was just going to be too costly."
"I understand that people are annoyed and frustrated," said Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications, "but it was a matter of looking at resources we were going to be able to bring to bear and the different campaigns we are involved in or committed to supporting, and we had to make some difficult choices. Arkansas was the least far along," he told DRCNet, noting that MPP was also involved in initiatives in Alaska, Montana, Nevada and Oregon.
Under Arkansas law, initiative organizers had to turn in at least 64,500 valid signatures to make the ballot. On July 2, the campaign turned in 71,000 signatures, but organizers are working under the standard assumption that some percentage will be found invalid and the initiative will end up below the required number. Arkansas law includes a provision giving initiative organizers 30 days to gather additional signatures if state officials rule that not enough valid signatures have been gathered.
"We are staying the course," vowed Denele Campbell, leader of the Arkansas Alliance for Medical Marijuana (http://www.ardpark.org), the five-year local grassroots effort to bring medical marijuana to the state. "Our focus is the sick and dying, and we are going to keep working until we can get protection in place for these people," she told DRCNet. Campbell was quick to assert authority over the initiative for local organizers. "Our ballot committee filed the petitions and retains 'ownership' of the initiative, and it seems absurd to abandon the campaign at this point, when we still have five or six weeks to gather signatures," she said.
The loss of MPP funding does not have to be a mortal blow, Campbell said. "We'd been working for five years without any money already, we've always been a grassroots campaign, and we're used to getting by on t-shirt sales. Poor folks have poor ways," she laughed. "We have also developed a lot of good will from the public and the media, we've always presented ourselves as real Arkansans with real concerns, and we've built some real credibility. And our polling shows that two-thirds of the voters support our issue," she explained. Arkansas organizers are continuing to seek funding, she said, noting that the group had received more than $5,500 in pledges since MPP's withdrawal announcement a week ago.
MPP's Mirken is sympathetic toward patients and other activists who were angered by the decision. "We, too, are certainly unhappy and frustrated that we haven't been able to see this though," he said, "but without MPP involvement it never would have gotten this far. Getting a measure qualified for the ballot is hugely costly. We hoped we could help get it done. There may have been fewer hurt feelings if we had never tried, but then again, the people in Arkansas wouldn't be as close to getting on the ballot as they are right now. We wish them the best."