The Arkansas medical marijuana initiative lives -- at least for now. The years long effort to get the issue before Arkansas voters was nearly derailed in late July after the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org) decided to pull out (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/346/arkansas.shtml). But while MPP folded up shop, local activists in the Arkansas Alliance for Medical Marijuana (http://www.ardpark.org) decided to keep on trying.
The initiative would create a registry system under the Arkansas Department of Health for qualified medical marijuana patients and providers. Patients and providers registered under the system "shall not be arrested, prosecuted, punished, or penalized in any manner under state law," provided the amount of marijuana encountered is less than one ounce of smokeable pot or no more than six plants.
On Wednesday, Arkansas medical marijuana supporters handed in 30,000 new signatures after canvassing statewide. Under Arkansas law, petitioners whose original signature petitions did not come up with enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot are granted a 30-day grace period to attempt to find more. With these additional signatures, the Arkansas initiative may make it to the ballot in November, but it is going to be a real nail-biter.
The measure needs 64,456 valid signatures to make the ballot. In the first round of signature-gathering, conducted by the MPP contractor The Southwest Group, organizers came up with 66,000 signatures, of which 17,371 were not counted because of notary errors. Of the remaining 48,629 signatures that were checked, only 29,947, or 62%, were found valid, leaving the initiative less than halfway to its goal with only a month to get more.
But initiative organizers think they can still get there. "We were able to locate key notaries to correct some of the problems among that first rejected group of 17,371," said Denele Campbell, executive director for the Alliance. "We feel that batch will yield at least an additional 10,000 valid names to our tally."
If Campbell is correct, that would get the signature count up to about 40,000 signatures, still 25,000 short of the magic number. She is counting on very high validity rates in the signatures gathered in the last few weeks, she said. "If we achieve around 80% validity, our petitions will qualify. Our canvassers worked very hard in an extremely difficult situation, with limited funds and a short period of time to gather these signatures. We're proud of all the people who helped, not only the paid canvassers but also the many volunteers who gathered names in their communities. It's been a real grassroots effort."
And Arkansas activists have managed to do their second phase signature-gathering on a shoestring budget. Campbell reported to DRCNet late last month that the Alliance had raised $10,000 for the second phase, half of it from one donor.
If the Arkansas initiative makes it to the ballot in November, it will join a number of other marijuana and medical marijuana measures facing voters in various states and cities. State officials have certified initiatives for the ballot in Alaska (regulation of adult use), Montana (medical marijuana), and Oregon (medical marijuana, again), while the fate of an MPP-sponsored regulation initiative in Nevada awaits results of a signature recount following a judge's ruling in their favor. Medical marijuana issues are also on local ballots in Ann Arbor and Berkeley, while Detroit passed its medical marijuana initiative earlier this month. Oakland voters will vote on a "lowest priority" initiative, while voters in Columbia, Missouri, will vote on two initiatives intended to minimize marijuana prosecutions and their consequences.
Seven states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- have passed workable medical marijuana laws through the initiative process, while voters in Arizona in 1996 passed a measure that has been unworkable. In Hawaii and Vermont, medical marijuana has come though legislative action, while Maryland legislators passed a lesser bill allowing medicinal use to be used as a defense in marijuana possession cases.