Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin recently rejected a medical cannabis ballot measure because of its title.

The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Amendment of 2024 was submitted on Jan. 12 by Stephen Lancaster of the law firm Wright Lindsey & Jennings LLP. Griffin responded to the submission, although the opinion was initially prepared by Assistant Attorney General William R. Olson on Jan. 29, explaining the reasoning behind his decision to reject the measure in its current form.

He clearly states in the beginning of this letter that his decision is not a reflection of his support or opposition to this ballot measure, or any others. “My decision to certify or reject a popular name and ballot title is unrelated to my view of the proposed measure’s merits,” Griffin began. “I am not authorized to consider the measure’s merits when considering certification.”

However, ballot titles are required to be written in a very specific way. Those who write the measures must ensure that the titles contain all of the essential facts “which would give the voter serious ground for reflection,” but also attempt to keep it brief. “The ballot title is not required to be perfect, nor is it reasonable to expect the title to address every possible legal argument the proposed measure might evoke,” Griffin explained. “The title, however, must be free from any misleading tendency—whether by amplification, omission, or fallacy—and it must not be tinged with partisan coloring. The ballot title must be honest and impartial, and it must convey an intelligible idea of the scope and significance of a proposed change in the law.”

Griffin continued to share the core reason behind the rejection, explaining that the title was not formatted properly and contained ambiguous statements. “Where the effects of a proposed measure on current law are unclear or ambiguous, I am unable to ensure the popular name and ballot title accurately reflect the proposal’s contents until the sponsor clarifies or removes the ambiguities in the proposal itself.”

Griffin is sending the ballot measure authors back to the drawing board to fix the wording. The header, for instance, currently reads “Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Arkansas,” but wording including “enacting clauses” is only required for bills, not constitutional amendments, which may cause voters to be unsure if this is a bill or a constitutional amendment. He also suggested new text to a section that discusses advertising, and ambiguous wording for “rules shall also require child-proof packaging,” addresses that “medical cannabis” as a phrase is not defined anywhere, noting that the interchangeable use of “marijuana plants” and “cannabis plants” be just “cannabis plants” to avoid confusion, and more.

If the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Amendment of 2024 is passed, it would amend the constitution to allow patients and caregivers to cultivate up to seven mature cannabis plants, as well as seven younger plants, expand the qualifying conditions of medical cannabis to include more than the current 18 conditions, allow out-of-state patients holding medical cannabis cards to purchase cannabis in Arkansas, remove fees for cannabis card applications, and allow those cards to last for three years instead of one.

It also includes a section entitled “Effect of future federal classification of marijuana” which would permit possession of up to one ounce of cannabis if the federal government decides to remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances.

The Arkansas Advocate published an article on this topic and noted that the advocate group can only begin collecting signatures once Griffin has signed off on a ballot measure. After that, they have until July 5 to submit 90,704 signatures in order to qualify for the ballot in November.

Erika Gee, an attorney representing Arkansans for Patient Access, shared a statement with the news outlet regarding what’s next. “Arkansans for Patient Access is reviewing Attorney General Tim Griffin’s ballot proposal opinion. We intend to address the issues raised and resubmit,” Gee said. “We are confident ballot language will be presented that ultimately gains approval.”

Arkansas voters legalized medical cannabis in November 2016 through Amendment 98, and sales began in May 2019. In August 2022, a recreational cannabis ballot initiative from Responsible Growth Arkansas was rejected because of its name and title. The group quickly filed a lawsuit  “to challenge the State Board of Election Commissioners’ thwarting of the will of the people and their right to adopt laws by initiative.” The Arkansas Supreme Court said that the measure would still appear on the ballot, as Arkansa Issue 4. However, in November 2022, 56.25% of voters voted no, while only 43.75% voted yes.

Late last year, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission announced that medical cannabis taxes were helping to fund kids’ school lunches in the state. The commission stated that while the state collected $115 million from cannabis taxes, an estimated $87 million was granted for food insecurity.

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