The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, also known as issue seven, was disqualified from the November ballot on Oct. 27 by the Arkansas Supreme Court after the court ruled in favor of a lawsuit that challenged the sufficiency of signatures counted by the Secretary of State’s office.
In order for a ballot measure to be placed on the general election ballot, there must be 67,887 signatures from registered voters submitted with the petition. The signatures must be approved by the Secretary of State and then the subject matter be reviewed by the State Supreme Court. Arkansas for Compassionate Care initially submitted 117,547 signatures, of which 77,516 were validated before Arkansas’ early voting began.
Kara Benca, a Little Rock Criminal Attorney and supporter of decriminalization of marijuana, filed the lawsuit against issue seven. The lawsuit was centered on six arguments presented by Benca on concerns about technical compliance with new state law on canvassing requirements. A main argument challenged 8,620 signatures because they were gathered by paid canvassers and had not met rules set out for paid canvassers, of which included required state police background checks. According to the Supreme Court’s ruling, approximately 12,000 signatures were re-examined and invalidated, leaving the petition with 65,412 valid signatures, just 2,465 signatures short of allowing the issue to remain on the ballot.
According to the Arkansas Times, the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision did not follow findings of Special Master John Robbins, a retired judge who heard previous challenges to the validity of signatures collected for issue seven. Robbins had previously disqualified 2,087 signatures, but accepted the remaining ones, enough to qualify for the ballot.
The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the judge’s decision with a 5-2 vote. The ruling stated, “because we conclude that the total number of signatures, which should have been counted by respondent, falls below the statutory minimum, we grant the petition.”
Justice Paul Danielson, who was in favor of keeping Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act on the ballot said, “I agree with the master’s finding that these errors are not a complete failure with regard to the sufficiency of the signatures on the petition. The proposed act should remain on the ballot.”
In response to the ruling, Jennifer Lewis, of Arkansas for Compassionate Care, said AFCC plans to appeal the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision in federal court.
One cause for appeal is the matter of the interpretation of the term election. Arkansas law states that if the quality of any petition is challenged, the cause in question is supposed to be tried in court immediately. The failure of the courts to decide prior to the election as to the quality of any such petition shall not be prevented from being placed upon the ballot. The question arises if the term is interpreted to include early voting, or only Election Day on Nov. 8.
Bucky Graham, a volunteer for issue seven for the past two years, said that there has been confusion among early voters about whether or not issue seven can still be voted for and counted.
“Many voting headquarters, like in Russellville, have added issue seven to the list of issues that have been disqualified,” Graham said. “Issue seven will remain on the ballot, since the ballots have already been printed but won’t be counted unless we win the appeal.”
Graham said that the current issue goes beyond the legalization of medical cannabis and the competing petitions, but more on the infringement of Arkansans not having their voices heard.
“I would have voted differently if they had made the ruling prior to the election,” Graham said. “I feel like Arkansans don’t get a fair vote this year, especially when they have choices.”
Many Arkansans across the state have expressed their outrage on the court’s decision.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Graham said. “They basically told us that our voices don’t matter, but they do; we are going to fight it.