Arkansas marijuana legalization initiative to appear on November ballot; votes may not be counted pending state supreme court ruling

On Aug. 11, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered the Secretary of State to certify a marijuana legalization initiative for the election on Nov. 8. Votes on the initiative may not be counted pending a court ruling on the initiative’s ballot language.

Responsible Growth Arkansas, the campaign behind the marijuana legalization initiative, submitted more than 190,000 signatures on July 8. The Arkansas secretary of state announced on July 29 that the campaign had submitted more than the required number of valid signatures (89,151) and would qualify for the ballot if the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners certified the ballot language.

On Aug. 3, 2022, the election commissioners declined to certify the ballot title and popular names for the initiative, stating that the language was misleading. The next day, Responsible Growth Arkansas filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court. The campaign said the board “[thwarted] the will of the people and their right to adopt laws by initiative.” The campaign requested an expedited review because the deadline for the secretary of state to certify measures for the 2022 ballot is August 25. On August 11, the state Supreme Court ordered the secretary of state to certify the measure for the ballot. Votes on the initiative may not be counted, however, if the supreme court rules that the ballot language is misleading. Case briefs were scheduled to be filed with the court through September 2, 2022.

The measure would legalize marijuana use for individuals 21 years of age and older and authorize the commercial sale of marijuana with a 10% sales tax. Adults could possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Under the amendment, businesses that already hold licenses under the state’s medical marijuana program would be authorized to sell marijuana for personal use. An additional 40 licenses would be given to businesses chosen by a lottery. The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division of the Department of Finance and Administration would regulate the program and provide for cannabis business licensing.

Marijuana legalization measures are certified to appear on the 2022 ballot in Maryland, Missouri, and South Dakota. Marijuana legalization measures could also appear on the ballot in Oklahoma and North Dakota. Currently, 19 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the possession and personal use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Eleven states and D.C. had legalized marijuana through the ballot initiative process.

Since 2012, the Arkansas Supreme Court has invalidated nine citizen-initiated measures that had been certified for the ballot. In 2020, three citizen-initiated measures were certified for the ballot. Two were later blocked from appearing on the ballot. One appeared on the ballot, but votes for the measure were not counted or certified. In 2018, a citizen initiative was blocked from appearing on the ballot after having been certified. In 2016, three initiatives appeared on the ballot, but votes on the measures were not counted or certified. In 2012, two initiatives appeared on the ballot, but votes were not counted or certified.

From 2012 to 2018, six citizen initiatives appeared on the ballot and had votes counted and results certified. Of the six measures, four were approved (66.67%) and two (33.33%) were defeated.