Policy tends to move slower than social trends. However, Arkansas empowers the people via a ballot initiative program where medical marijuana appeared and passed.
Problems and Purpose
Many people in America suffer from ailments that require consistent medical attention. One alternative form of care for individuals has been the use and accessibility of medical marijuana, as other states have grown to legalize this form of use in the past years. In 2016, citizens of Arkansas, a state in the United States of America, gathered enough signatures to get the vote for the legalization of medical marijuana on the ballot through the ballot initiative process that allows citizens to raise issues to vote on during election cycles if they receive enough signatures. Through this process, citizens of Arkansas vying for medical marijuana legalization intended to secure alternative forms of treatment for certain ailments and make a stance in a conservative South towards the side of progressivism on a social issue, such as medical marijuana legalization.
Background History and Context
The initiative and referendum policy in Arkansas moved through the state legislature and was ultimately ratified on September 5th, 1910 by then-Governor George Donaghey . Perhaps one of the more interesting features of the initiative and referendum amendments is that it was garnered mostly from the Oregon provisions yet included the ability to be utilized throughout the legislature – including local elections . Strides were made in the following decades to challenge and limit people’s power within Arkansas, while the folks in favor of the initiative and referendum policy attempted to increase the power in said process . Conservatives wanted to ensure that the power exercised through the I and R was held in check, as there were no limits to the number of initiatives that could be placed on the ballot, and there was a requirement for at least two-thirds of the legislature to vote in favor of repealing an initiative that had been approved by a majority of voters . After a state, Supreme Court reversal of a previous ruling severely limiting the power of I and R, the initiative and referendum policy was solidified as a valued and powerful citizen engagement tool . In a comprehensive examination of the I and R, Tom Cotton explained that there still exist mechanisms that limit the ability of citizens to use the I and R because of the language requirements in naming the item on the ballot by specifically stating the cause in an objective manner void of partiality . The state of Arkansas is not the only state with some powerful citizens' rights in governance; however, they are the only state in the Southeast region of the country with initiative and referendum rights, as Mississippi only has initiated amendment rights .
As far as marijuana’s history in the United States, usage of cannabis-related products used to be prioritized. In 1619, Virginia passed a law to promote every farm have at least some hemp growing on it . During the introduction of cotton as a more plentiful and comfortable fabric, hemp pivoted toward being more purposeful for medicinal use . Fast forwarding to the 1930’s would see certain groups of individuals advocating for the prohibition of marijuana and related product usage, which started with certain states outlawing the plant altogether and a movement for an extra tax on marijuana products . Marijuana then found a resurgence in the 1990’s when the first few states passed medical marijuana laws , which was followed in the 2000s by more states legalizing medical marijuana through their legislatures or ballot initiatives . Since 2010, 16 additional states have legalized medical marijuana through legislative enactments or ballot measures .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Marijuana Policy Project offers organizational support to states across the nation by spreading the message more generally . David Couch from the Arkansas United for Medical Marijuana (UAMM) led the ballot initiative [ 9]. Arkansas NORML (National Organization of the Reform of Marijuana Law’s) works within the state to sway public opinion towards the need to regulate marijuana usage and decriminalizing its usage . Arkansans for Safe Access (Arkansans for Compassionate Care) additionally provided support for the issues . Citizens of Arkansas were able to raise two issues to the ballot Issue 6, which included fewer qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use, and issue 7, which allowed greater qualifying conditions but gave the legislature to repeal the initiative with a 2/3rds vote . Additionally, the Democratic Party in Arkansas added support of the medical marijuana issues to their platform in 2016 .
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Individuals participate in the initiative process on their own accord – nobody is turned away. Organizers were able to utilize the typical canvassing techniques and access of public records to call or target the population, while also utilizing social media in order to engage with potential voters like the Arkansas for Safe Access Volunteers Facebook page . At least 84,859 signatures from Arkansan voters were acquired to get this amendment to the ballot in 2016 .
Methods and Tools Used
The method used was the initiative process. In order to get an initiative to ballot, signatures must be acquired. These can be gathered at rallies, at libraries, or anywhere that people are located. These sorts of things do not necessarily need to have a centralized location where they operate and get individuals to provide data or anything of that nature. The only method and tool used in the actual process are pen, paper, and canvasing for signatures. These include demonstrations, petitions and social media.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Following an attempt in 2012 to legalize medical marijuana, Attorney David Couch drafted a proposition known as Issue 6. Issue 6 would legalize medical marijuana use for 17 qualifying conditions and create a Medical Marijuana Commission . In 2016, Arkansan citizens were rallied around the cause of placing the medical marijuana initiative on the ballot and garnering their signature on the paper. Then, the citizens of Arkansas voted on the measure during the Arkansas 2016 elections and passed the initiative of Issue 6 .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The ballot initiative program in Arkansas led to a pioneering step in the South when it legalized marijuana. In this way, they are leading the charge for conservative states to match a more progressive stance on certain social issues. Now, Arkansans that qualify for the medical marijuana are able to access it within the state. After getting enough of the signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot, Arkansan voters affirmed Issue 6 and amended the law to allow for medical marijuana.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
All in all, it seems pretty clear that the ballot initiative is a driving factor in the progressive movement in Arkansas for social issues. Because of this success in the initiative, it seems as if there is also a large tide being turned toward the decriminalization of marijuana in the state in the coming years as advocates are gearing up for another run towards the ballot in 2020. The executive director of the Arkansas Drug Policy Education group, Melissa Fults, said in an interview that the idea behind the movement seems to be freeing up space in jails for violent offenders rather than having folks that violated a nonviolent law waste resources that could go to getting some of the violent offenders off the streets . The big takeaway from this is that there is large power in the hands of the people in Arkansas to see the change in their community that they want to see. This is unprecedented in other areas in the South, with small exception to Mississippi (although they have more restrictions than Arkansas does). Marijuana has been just one example of social progressiveness bleeding into the conservative area of the country, and it doesn’t seem to be the only. Decriminalization of marijuana on the ballot in 2020 will likely tell us more about the nature of Arkansas’s social sphere moving forward . I, for one, am excited to look ahead.
The original submission of this case entry was written by Alec Zills, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The views expressed in the current version are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service
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