Red State Ballot Initiatives Race to Qualify

avatar Hilary Corrigan / May 16, 2020

Arkansas and Nebraska signature collectors will hustle in coming weeks to get cannabis initiatives onto November ballots. The coronavirus pandemic disrupted their efforts during peak season.

Both drives expect the public will approve the measures, given the chance.

Arkansans for Cannabis Reform will resume collecting signatures on Monday for the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, according to the initiative’s petitioner, Melissa Fults. Fults also serves as executive director of both Arkansans for Cannabis Reform and the Drug Policy Education Group, and treasurer of Little Rock NORML. All of the groups are sponsoring the initiative.

The effort needs about another 70,000 signatures to reach the necessary 90,000 by July 3. Volunteers began collecting around September and had just started to also use paid canvassers when the pandemic shut down work. It also cancelled various events this spring that would have served as good signing places.

“We would’ve been golden by now,” Fults said. 

While ordering at a McDonald’s drive-through on Friday, Fults described the campaign’s own drive-through plans to help make up for lost time. The strategy focuses on setting up drive-and-sign spots.

Advertising will alert people to locations and times for drive-up signing. Masked, gloved signature collectors will pass them petitions to sign through vehicle windows, then dispense hand sanitizer. Signature takers will also set up tables, stand in front of businesses and go door-to-door through the July deadline. Fults just bought a gallon and a half of hand sanitizer.

“That’s the game plan,” Fults said. “I think we can do it.”

‘Better program’

Fults says the Arkansas Adult-Use Cannabis Amendment would fix a lot of the problems with the state’s current MED program. She considers it a disaster. For instance, the new law would increase the state’s allowed dispensaries to 120 instead of the current cap of 40. And it would allow home growing. Fults expects more dispensaries, more product and more competition would bring down the current costs.

“It’ll just be a better program,” Fults said.

Conservative state legislators, leaders and organizations such as Family Council have waged a “Just don’t sign” campaign to keep the measure off the ballot. But the effort has also informed supporters about the petition.

“It kind of backfired and it bit ‘em on the butt,” Fults said.

The campaign is talking with a few other Arkansas ballot initiatives still seeking signatures about a lawsuit for relief options. Their ideas include extending the deadline, reducing the number of signatures required, or allowing online or mailed signatures.

“It’ll pass” if it reaches the ballot, Fults said.

Nebraska

Signature gathering resumed this week in Nebraska for an initiative to allow patients to access MED with a doctor’s recommendation. Enshrined in the state constitution, it would authorize the legislature to create a regulatory program to facilitate it. Sponsors include Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, two Democrat state senators and Marijuana Policy Project.

Volunteers started collecting signatures last year, then paid collectors began just before the pandemic shut down work, said Jared Moffat, the campaign’s coordinator for MPP. The effort needs about 125,000 valid signatures by the July 2 deadline. He estimates it has somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 signatures now.

“We have a ways to go,” he said of the drive. “We don’t have a ton of time, but we still feel pretty confident that we’re going to succeed.”

Signature collectors now take precautions by using gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, single-use pens and maintaining distance. They set up tables on sidewalks, at businesses like grocery stores and at public places like the DMV.

Efforts to pass MED through the state legislature for years have failed. Like Arkansas’ measure, Nebraska’s faces opposition from state leaders. But not from the general public, according to Moffat.

He expressed confidence, saying, “If it’s on the ballot, we’re gonna win.”

The pandemic effectively ended ballot initiatives in other conservative states, he said. Those included pushes for REC in Missouri and North Dakota and MED in Idaho.

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Hilary Corrigan
Reporter