Arkansas Voters Reject Marijuana Legalization
Early polling showed a majority favored the change, but support fell in the face of opposition from leading Republicans and conservative groups.
Arkansas voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot initiative that would have legalized marijuana for recreational use. With 84 percent of ballots reported, 56 percent of voters had said no to Issue 4, a constitutional amendment that would have allowed adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and authorized current medical dispensaries, plus up to 40 additional licensees, to serve the recreational market, with sales taxed at 10 percent.
The 2016 Arkansas initiative that legalized medical use passed with support from 53 percent of voters, and early polling suggested a similar proportion of voters would favor Issue 4. But subsequent surveys found that support for legalization was dropping.
A Talk Business & Politics/Hendrix College poll conducted in February found that 54 percent of likely voters thought marijuana should be "legal for adults," compared to 32 percent who said it should be legal only for medical use and 11 percent who thought it should not be legal at all. A survey of likely voters from the same source put support for Issue 4 at a bare majority (51 percent) in mid-October, while a University of Arkansas poll conducted around the same time found that just 41 percent of Arkansas adults favored the measure.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who ran the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from 2001 to 2003, opposed the initiative and urged law enforcement agencies to "stand firm" against it. The initiative's opponents also included the state's two Republican senators, Tom Cotton and John Boozman; Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders; and organizations such as the Arkansas Family Council, Safe and Secure Communities, and Save Arkansas From Epidemic.
"They're going to sell this as something that's going to help law enforcement," Hutchison said at a police convention in August, noting that Issue 4 earmarked 15 percent of marijuana tax revenue for "a fund to support law enforcement stipends" and 5 percent for drug courts. "So once again, they're selling a harmful drug to the citizens of Arkansas based upon promises that looks [sic] good. Now, those promises might be a reality, but I think that you've got to be prepared for this debate….It will increase the usage of marijuana. I believe that marijuana is a harmful drug. It is as simple as that."
Huckabee pushed a similar line. "I don't think that with the drug epidemic that we have across this state, frankly across the country, that adding and giving more access to that does anything to benefit Arkansas," she told reporters last month, "so I certainly wouldn't be supportive of that."
Somewhat surprisingly, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which is collecting signatures for a 2024 legalization initiative, also spoke out against Issue 4. Arkansas NORML Treasurer Melissa Fults called the 2022 measure "horrible," noting that it did not allow home cultivation or expunge marijuana-related criminal records. "When you control the industry, you can set the prices to whatever you want to and make people pay it," Fults told a Jonesboro TV station in July. "It would also destroy the medical industry we worked so hard to build."
Prior to this year's elections, 37 states had approved marijuana for medical use, and 19 of them also had legalized recreational use. The approval of a legalization initiative in Maryland on Tuesday raised the latter number to 20.