Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Attorney general continues to block marijuana proposal

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2016 at 3:51 PM

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has again rejected the form of a ballot proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas and the backer of that effort thinks her motives are political.

David Couch, a Little Rock attorney who led an unsuccessful ballot effort in 2012 and who's trying to get a new proposal certified, wrote me:

The AG refused to certify or rewrite a ballot title for the medical marijuana amendment again. She based her denial this time on provisions that were included in the original submission that she did not find were vague the first time it was submitted. Many of these provisions that she now complains about are identical to those included in the proposal that was voted on in 2012. As you will recall the Arkansas Supreme Court found the ballot title in 2012 to be sufficient. Many of the provisions are identical to the provisions that were in the proposal that was approved by Attorney General McDaniel in the last election cycle. It seems to me that the Attorney General is using the ballot title approval process to prohibit the citizens of Arkansas from voting on a measure that the polls indicate that as many as 80% support.

Here's the attorney general's official rejection.
The rejection includes the boilerplate statement that the office takes no political position on this or any proposal submitted as to form.

Problems she cited:

* It's unclear whether a property owner could bar entry to a person under the influence of marijuana, a potential conflict with law allowing the barring of people under the influence of alcohol. (Couch, and I, wonder what a marijuana proposal has to do with an alcohol rule, except a means to raise a roadblock to approval.)

* It's unclear whether a caregiver, who could give marijuana to a patient when nothing of value is transferred in return, would be prohibited from being paid or reimbursed for payments for marijuana.

* It is unclear whether protection from seize given property used in connection with medical marijuana is protected from seizure if used in connection with illegal activities.

* The limit of 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks seems to apply only to dispensaries. "There appears to be no prohibition on a patient's obtaining 2.5 ounces every two weeks from every dispensary in the state." 

* A rule that requires local governments to allow dispensaries to operate at least 10 hours a day seems at conflict with local government rules that limit pharmacy hours to less than 10 hours a day.

* The rule prohibiting physicians from offering remuneration to a dispensary might also prevent a physician who is a qualifying patient from buying marijuana.

Three other marijuana petitions, covering both pure legalization and medical marijuana only, are already circulating. All were approved for the ballot in 2014, before Rutledge took office.

Couch said he will resubmit the proposal. Should the Rutledge roadblock continue, his options would be an action before the Arkansas Supreme Court to get her to do her job or a federal lawsuit alleging a violation of constitutional rights.

The response from Judd Deere of Rutledge's office:

The opinion speaks for itself.

I would point you to two things: First, in all responses, the Attorney General makes clear that the decision to certify or reject a popular name and ballot title is in no way a reflection of her view of the merits of a particular proposal. She is not authorized to, and does not, consider the merits of the measure when making her determination to certify or reject a popular name and ballot title. Second, the Attorney General makes clear that ambiguities noted in this response, and others, are not necessarily all the ambiguities contained in the proposal, but they are sufficiently serious to require her to reject the popular name and ballot title. Further, she says that additional ambiguities may come to light on review of any revisions of the proposal.

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