Thursday, September 27, 2012

Arkansas Supreme Court clears vote on medical marijuana

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2012 at 9:05 AM

VICTORY: Arkansans for Compassionate Care is already trumpeting its court win.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has denied the petition to block a vote on the initiative to allow medical use of marijuana in Arkansas. The decision clears the way for a vote on medical marijuana in Arkansas on Nov. 6.

Here's the opinion. The court said the ballot title was sufficient.

The complaint was brought by the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values and included Jerry Cox, leader of the Arkanass branch of the rightwing fundamentalist Family Council, and Larry Page, longtime leader of the church-backed Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council.

They contended the measure, certified for the ballot by Secretary of State Mark Martin, conflicted with state and federal laws and constitutions.

The court rejected arguments that the ballot title was too long, at 384 words; that it lacked definitions and contained misleading terms; that it had omitted key words and phrases; that it prevented fair understanding of the impact of the act (such as potential for people getting pot for illicit uses). The court held unanimously that it met the required standard of being intelligible, honest and impartial. The court noted that no title is required to discuss the merits or demerits of a question and that it wasn't possible to list every consequence of an initiative. (Might this be a hint at a coming decision on whether a casino amendment says enough about potential impact on existing casinos at Oaklawn and Southland Park?)

The court also upheld the sufficiency of the popular name, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, which opponents claimed was partisan and misleading because there's no such thing as medical marijuana. The court said, though, that the words were familiar, commonly used and understood and presented impartially.

The court said the claim that the act violated law and constitution is directed at the substance of the act, not the popular name and ballot title, and "is therefore not ripe for review." For that to happen, the proposal must become law and a "case in controversy" arise. The court can step in before adoption only when a proposal is "clearly contrary to law." The problems posed by plaintiffs are hypothetical, the court said. The Coalition, it said, bases assertions "on situations that may arise, if the law is passed, not language that is clearly contrary to either the constitutions or state and federal law." Again, I have to wonder about the casino challenge.

The unanimous court decision was written by Justice Karen Baker.

This clears the way for a vote on the proposal Nov. 6. Here's a link to the proposal if you'd like to study up. Polls over the years have shown warmth in Arkansas toward use of marijuana for medicine, but similar sentiments in other states haven't always led to positive outcomes. Gov. Mike Beebe has already told reporters he thinks Arkansas voters won't approve and raised the issue of the cost to the state of regulating dispensaries and those allowed to grow marijuana if they live too far from dispensaries. The marijuana can be prescribed for certain recognized illnesses.

AP's Andrew DeMillo wrote a useful overview several weeks ago.

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