Arkansas could be the 20th state to legalize adult-use cannabis—and the first among its six neighboring states—this November.

That’s because ballot initiative group Responsible Growth Arkansas submitted more than 190,000 signatures July 8 to the secretary of state’s office for its petition to let voters decide on a constitutional amendment to fully legalize the plant, ABC-affiliate KATV reported.

That’s more than double the 89,151 valid signatures needed—or 10% of the votes cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election—according to BallotPedia.org.

Former Arkansas state Rep. Eddie Armstrong III, a Democrat who served as minority leader during his statehouse tenure from 2013-2019, filed the initiative and established Responsible Growth Arkansas to support it. For the past four years, Armstrong has served as the CEO and chairman of Chicago-based Cannabis Capital Group, a medical cannabis consulting, investing and advisory firm.

The intent of the ballot measure, the “Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment,” is to authorize adults 21 and older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis for personal use and to authorize the cultivation and sale of cannabis by licensed commercial facilities. 

Cultivation Licenses

The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration would be responsible for administering and regulating cultivation facilities for two license types: Tier one licenses would be for existing medical operators, while tier two adult-use cultivation facilities for new market entrants would be limited to growing no more than 250 mature cannabis plants at any time.

By March 7, 2023, ABC officials would be responsible for issuing tier one adult-use cultivation licenses—that don’t have the 250-plant limit—to existing operators under the state’s medical program, according to the filed initiative.

By Nov. 8, 2023, ABC would then issue 12 tier two cultivation facility licenses chosen through a lottery system. No more than 12 tier two licenses could be issued under the constitutional amendment.

All tier one and tier two adult-use cultivation facilities licensed under the amendment must be located at least 3,000 feet from a public or private school, church, daycare center or facility for individuals with developmental disabilities that pre-exist the licensure.

Dispensary Licenses

By March 7, 2023, ABC officials would have to issue adult-use dispensary licenses to existing medical cannabis retailers, as well as a second dispensary license to those retailers allowing them to open an adult-use-only location within 5 miles of their existing medical dispensaries.

Wholesale and retail sales for adult-use cannabis by licensed commercial establishments could begin the next day.

By July 5, 2023, ABC would then issue 40 additional adult-use dispensary licenses awarded through a lottery. Those new license holders could not open a retail location within 5 miles of existing medical retailers. But more licenses could be issued under the amendment, which puts a 120-dispensary limit in place.

No individual or entity would be allowed to have an ownership interest in more than 18 adult-use dispensaries in the state.

All adult-use dispensaries must be located at least 1,500 feet from a public or private school, church, daycare center or facility for individuals with developmental disabilities that pre-exist the cannabis licensure.

Oversight, Taxes and Local Option

An ABC board would be responsible for enacting rules that establish other oversights to the expanded program, from security and inventory requirements to packaging and labeling standards, licensing renewals and transfers, recordkeeping, penalties and appellate procedures, and inspections.

In addition to state and local sales taxes levied upon tangible personal property, the constitutional amendment would levy a 10% supplemental sales tax on adult-use retail sales. The revenue generated from that supplemental tax would be reserved as follows:

Fifteen percent shall be used to fund an annual stipend to all full-time law enforcement officers certified by the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training and in good standing.Ten percent shall be used to fund the operations of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.Five percent shall be used to fund drug court programs authorized by the Arkansas Drug Court Act.The remaining 70% of the supplemental tax revenue would go to the state’s general fund.

In addition, local municipalities may prohibit adult-use cannabis retail sales by a majority vote, but political subdivisions would be prohibited from creating or modifying existing zoning ordinances to restrict or impede commercial establishments from locating in any area not zoned for residential-use only on the date of the amendment’s passage.

Amendment Omissions

The constitutional amendment does not include a provision to home cultivation or expunge criminal records.

Within the filed ballot initiative, there is no mention of expungement, social equity, restorative justice or individuals disproportionately impacted by prohibition—all of which have become rising focuses of legalization efforts elsewhere in recent years.

Under current Arkansas laws and penalties, possessing less than 4 ounces of cannabis is punishable by up to 1 year of incarceration and a maximum $2,500 fine on the first offense. A subsequent offense of that amount is a felony that’s punishable by up to six years in jail and a $10,000 fine, according to NORML.

In 2019, there were roughly 545,600 cannabis arrests in the U.S., more than 90% of which were for possession, according to Marijuana Policy Project.

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