As medical marijuana advocates try to collect enough signatures and money to force a ballot initiative, they say they are not worried that they still have a long way to go.
To get the proposed measures placed on the November 2014 ballot, the medicinal marijuana groups each need to collect 62,507 signatures by July 7. They said they are just beginning, and are confident they will have enough signatures and money in the long run.
Two state advocate groups for medicinal marijuana are trying to get initiatives on the ballot. A proposal by Arkansans For Compassionate Care seeks medical marijuana to be allowed for people suffering from specific diseases and painful ailments. It would also allow those who live away from the marijuana dispensaries, perhaps in rural areas, to grow a few of their own medicinal marijuana plants.
A similar proposal by Arkansans For Responsible Medicine does not include language for self-grown marijuana.
Melissa Fults with Arkansans for Compassionate Care said the group has collected just over 10,000 signatures. The group needs to collect about 10,000 more signatures each month to keep pace and reach the threshold for the initiative to appear on the ballot.
Fults said she is not concerned about the possibility of missing the goal, saying the group has collected more signatures up to this point in the election cycle than they did in 2012, when a similar measure made its way onto the ballot statewide.
“All of our volunteers are challenging each other to get 100 signatures by the first of the month,” she said. “We’ve got 450 volunteers out there getting signatures.”
A contingent of detractors criticizing the possible dangers of marijuana stands in the way of the proposals. They say marijuana could lead to more dangerous drugs, and that the medicinal effects of marijuana can be experienced through prescription pills.
Fults said her group is focused on the specifics of the initiative. A medicinal marijuana initiative failed in Arkansas by two percentage points in 2012. Fults said this time, her group wants to fully educate voters on the positive effects of medical marijuana, a measure she believes will push the vote over the top.
“We are making sure it passes this time by having people understand it truly is a medicine,” she said. “Cannabis can actually help someone depending on their illness.”
David Couch with Arkansans for Responsible Medicine said his group plans to hire National Ballot Access, a firm based out of Georgia, to collect signatures.
“A paid canvasser or professional canvasser can collect maybe 1,000 signatures a week,” he said. “There’s 20 to 50 people that will come in that work for this organization.”
The contract would have a price tag of about $275,000.
“I don’t have money in the bank yet, but I have commitments for nearly the total amount of money I need to get the petition circulated,” Couch said.
The group Arkansans for Compassionate Care has $446 on hand right now. The other group, Arkansans for Responsible Medicine, has none, but they’ve spent hundreds of dollars on Facebook ads.
Medical marijuana has been legalized for use in 20 states and Washington, D.C., but remains illegal in Arkansas.