Last week, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel certified the wording of a proposed state constitutional amendment called "The Arkansas Hemp and Cannabis Amendment."
The amendment would allow the "cultivation, distribution, sale and use of the cannabis plant" and all products derive from the plant throughout the state.
The Legislature would have the authority to regulate, but not ban pot in the state. Now all supporters have to do is gather more than 78,000 signatures of registered Arkansas voters to secure the proposal a spot on the November ballot.
Not an easy task. But not impossible, either.
Two other ballot initiates regarding legal marijuana could end up on the ballot as well. Both would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, not recreational.
Back in 2012, Arkansas voters narrowly defeated an initiative to legalize medical marijuana by a vote of 537,989 to 507,757_a difference of just under 3 percent.
A lot can happen in two years. Younger voters — more inclined to favor legal marijuana — register and older voters — traditionally the opposition — fall off the rolls.
Proponents of legal pot claim that smoking marijuana can help alleviate symptoms of a number of conditions, including glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other neuromuscular diseases, epilepsy, cancer, asthma and pain in general. Opponents say there is no real medical basis to any of those claims.
So which side is right? Frankly, we don't know. There is no clear medical consensus.
For the record we are not in favor of the medical marijuana proposals. We have looked at other states that have passed such measures and see more problems that positives.
But that's for the voters to decide.
As for the recreational bid, we are definitely against the idea of a constitutional amendment broadly legalizing "cannabis" and all its derivative products. There is simply not enough regulatory oversight in the proposal, nor is there a provision for local option. Basically, every part of the state would be required to allow legal marijuana. That's something we don't even do with alcohol.
And that's not a good deal for the people of Arkansas.
Southwest Times Record, June 8, 2014
Don't look for prison crowding solutions in special session
The overcrowding in Arkansas' prisons and jails is an important public-safety issue. It is too important, in fact, to appear as an afterthought in a special session this year.
Two possible special session topics already are under discussion in the state: the troubled teacher health-insurance system and the Lottery Commission's decision to add monitor games.
On Wednesday, the Arkansas Sheriff's Association issued a news release asking that if a special legislative session were called, overcrowding also be covered in the session.
House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, has said he wants Gov. Mike Beebe to call a special session to address the school employees' health insurance, according to a report in Friday's edition. Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, has said that if Beebe grants Carter's request, he wants to introduce legislation to block the state Lottery Commission from offering monitor games.
The health insurance issue looks like it could use legislators' full attention. The lottery issue (we're tempted to call it a non-issue) would seem to be something that would fly or fail on a relatively simple vote.
Overcrowding at prisons and jails is going to be thorny and contentious. The tough-on-crime group and the no-new-taxes group are going to have their hands full working out a solution to this.
A couple of high profile crimes committed by parolees who surely should have been in jail predictably made prison officials and elected officials alike want to see more parolees in state correctional facilities. Laws were made to that effect. But increasing the census at state facilities in turn put pressure on county jails, which have to accept the overflow from state prisons while dealing with their own inmates.
Jail budgets for food, medical care and general supplies are stressed at the county level, despite what the state pays for care of prisoners it sends to the counties. Even more important, overcrowding is dangerous for inmates and correctional staff. Accidents happen when people are stressed. Small annoyances become major aggravations in close quarters. Violence can follow.
There is not likely one answer to the problem. More beds, more correctional officers, more diversion strategies for non-violent offenders: These are all probably part of the solution, but they are expensive parts and finding the money will not be easy. Further, these solutions alone have not yet proven to be sufficient. There's plenty of hard work ahead in finding newer answers to new problems.
The situation is just too complex to be rushed through a special session. Instead, now is the time for legislative committees and the Arkansas Sheriff's Association to be studying, consulting, considering and researching, so that when the next General Assembly convenes after the first of the year, real progress can be made on this issue.
Log Cabin Democrat, June 7, 2014
Ballots should be shown to the public early
The primaries have come and (almost) gone, preparing us for the big election in November. Although it's an off-year, it actually means more to Arkansas voters than those where the president is elected. We will be choosing a new governor, a new lieutenant governor, a new attorney general among other positions. Locally, we will be choosing a new county judge and a new county clerk, and we will be deciding if we want new representatives for us in the state legislature.
Although turnout for the primaries and judge races in May was higher than previous elections, it was still woefully low, especially when considering how important those races were. As a newspaper, we felt obliged to provide as much information about the candidates as possible, allowing everyone who announced for office to have a front page story and be featured in our election guide. A future guide will most likely show up in October.
We also ran sample ballots in our edition the weekend before the election, showing voters what they would be seeing when they went inside the voting booth. Our error was not running them earlier so that early voters would get a good look as well.
We also ran into a problem when it came to securing a sample ballot. It was difficult at both the county and state level to actually see a ballot in front of our faces, and it really shouldn't have to be.
Arkansas is one of the states that does not require a sample ballot to be printed in a local newspaper. Many states have this as a requirement, and citizens can see ballots as large as an entire page long before they make their decision. With the problems that were seen in Florida in 2000, you might think that it's a good idea. We do too.
The point of these elections is for an informed public to make well-thought out decisions about who will represent them and what initiatives need to be passed or rejected. And seeing how the ballot is constructed and what it will look like before a person makes that decision is extremely important. It's a bit like taking a test without opening the textbook first.
It may be tough to make it a statewide requirement before the next election. But we will remain diligent to provide the best-looking ballot before the early voting begins, and we challenge the Faulkner County Clerk, be it Margaret Darter or Aaron Knight, to figure out how to budget running the ballots in the paper for the future. It's important as a community to provide our residents with all the information we can, and a good, clean readable ballot should be one of the easier things we can do.