In addition to the proposed limitation on awards in medical malpractice and negligence lawsuits (see article, facing page), Arkansans are being asked to endorse five other proposed ballot initiatives this year. Unfortunately, a proposal to create meaningful election and ethics reform in statewide politics was rejected by the attorney general's office on technical grounds (see guest column, this issue) and is dead for the 2016 cycle.
To appear on the November ballot, a measure first must garner signatures from a minimum number of registered Arkansas voters by July 8: at least 84,859 for a constitutional amendment and at least 67,887 for an initiated act. The secretary of state's office then reviews the signatures. Some are inevitably invalid — people not registered to vote will have signed, for example — but if at least 75 percent of the threshold is met, canvassers then get a 30-day "cure period" to reach the magic number. Here are the proposals:
MEDICAL MARIJUANA I: The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act would legalize the regulated medical use of marijuana. It would allow licensed dispensaries to set up cultivation centers and would permit some patients to grow up to 10 of their own plants. The proposed initiated act is forwarded by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, which had raised a total of $125,850 and spent $96,686 as of May 31. The group has already submitted signed petitions to the secretary of state for review.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA II: The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment has much the same aim as the above proposal but would allow only four to eight designated cultivation centers in the state, along with a limited-grow provision for dispensaries. The big difference: It does not allow patients to grow their own plants. Arkansans United for Medical Marijuana's chairman, David Couch, says polling shows most voters in the state won't support a grow-your-own provision. (A narrowly defeated 2012 effort to legalize medical marijuana contained such a provision.) The group had raised a cumulative $105,000 and spent $81,572 as of May 31.
FULL LEGALIZATION: The Arkansas Cannabis Amendment would legalize recreational use of marijuana along with medical use and would allow licensed individuals to grow up to 36 plants. It's considered a long shot. Two groups have reported small expenditures in support of the proposal this year; together, Arkansas True Grass and the Citizens Alliance for the Legalization of Marijuana had raised $3,544 and spent $2,449 as of May 31.
CASINOS FOR THREE COUNTIES: This proposal is being pushed by a group called "Arkansas Wins in 2016," which appears to be composed of private investors from Arkansas and Branson, Mo. Rather than changing the laws on gambling more generally, it specifies three additional legal casinos for the state: one each in Washington County (Fayetteville), Miller County (Texarkana) and Boone County (Harrison). The proposed measure sets up a battle with the state's existing gaming interests — the casinos attached to the Oaklawn racetrack in Hot Springs and Southland racetrack in West Memphis, respectively — which are jealously protective of their turf. As of May 31, the group had raised $25,500 and spent $15,000.
TERM LIMITS: In 2014, voters approved an amendment touted as an ethics reform compromise: tighter rules on lobbyists in return for higher pay for elected officials and longer term limits. The fatter paychecks and looser term limits materialized, but the lobbyist restrictions were all but neutered by loopholes. This proposal would restore term limits to pre-2014 levels: six years for representatives and eight years for senators. A group called Restore Term Limits had raised $82,588 and spent $51,941 as of May 31.