Arkansas claims some of the harshest cannabis laws in the country, but the land of Clintons and Huckabees became the first state in the Deep South to legalize medical use. Yes, really.
The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, or Issue 6, passed with 53 percent of the vote in the November 2016 election. The ballot measure legalized medical cannabis for patients with any of 17 qualifying conditions. Most polls showed majority support for medical cannabis ahead of the election, with a Public Opinion Strategies poll in June giving it a 63- to 35-percent edge.
Back in 2012 when only 44 percent supported medical cannabis, 49 percent of the state voted in favor of an MMJ measure, which narrowly lost.
Arkansas is one of the few Southern states with a citizen’s initiative process, and the people used it in 2012 and again in 2014. The Arkansans for Compassionate Care got the former state Attorney General to certify the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act in 2014, which allowed the group to collect signatures for the 2016 ballot box.
Two other initiatives—The Arkansas Hemp & Marijuana Amendment (sponsored byCALM: The Citizens Alliance for Legalizing Marijuana) and The Arkansas Hemp & Cannabis Amendment—were also certified to collect signatures, but they did not make the 2016 ballot. The state Attorney General rejected three other ballot initiatives, including the full-legalization Arkansas Cannabis Amendment, which she rejected based on the incorrect use of singular and plural nouns, verbs and adjectives.
Several parts of the state have already decriminalized cannabis on a local level. For example, Eureka Springs easily passed the Cannabis as Low Police Priority Initiative in 2006, and Fayetteville followed suit two years later.
That is clearly a lot of activism, and with good reason. The Arkansas Legislature shows little interest in reforming cannabis laws, and most cannabis possession offenses are felonies with $10,000 fines and up to six years in prison. The exception is for first-time offenders possessing than less than four ounces, which nets up to a year in jail and a maximum $2,500 fine. Any conviction also results in the loss of driving privileges for six months. As with many states, the rate of arrest is several times higher for African Americans than whites despite similar rates of cannabis consumption.
Alabama is an example of a Dixie state that legalized CBD oil, but support for whole-plant MMJ is limited in the South, and the legislatures are unlikely to reform the laws anytime soon. States like Arkansas and Mississippi, however, have initiative processes that put change in the hands of its citizens, which is why the appropriately nicknamed Natural State became the first deep-red state to go green.