A medical marijuana supporter is pulling his proposed ballot initiative from this year’s elections, saying he thinks it has a better shot at passing in 2016. Another advocacy group, though, still hopes to legalize medical marijuana in a 2014 ballot measure.
Arkansans for Responsible Medicine had been collecting signatures to put a proposal on the 2014 ballot legalizing the use of medicinal marijuana. Little Rock attorney David Couch, though, decided to pull the proposal until voter turnout is expected to be higher.
"We did not feel that the turnout was going to be enough for it to pass, " he said. "We did not want it to fail for two years in a row, because that might be fatal for the initiative for other future efforts."
Couch said his group projects turnout for the 2014 elections to be about 800,000 voters, 300,000 less than voted on the medical marijuana issue in 2012, a measure that was narrowly defeated. He expects voter turnout to be higher in 2016 because it will be a Presidential Election year.
"Medical marijuana is a progressive issue and the bigger the turnout you have it's generally better for progressives and progressive issues," Couch said.
Couch was concerned his cause could lose major funding if it failed a second time in 2014. He would rather wait two years and present the issue fresh in 2016, he said.
"It was going to be tight as to whether or not we would have enough money to get it on the ballot," Couch said. "I did not know if we were going to have enough money to get the message out. You just don't want to lose."
There is still one other Arkansas group collecting signatures for a pro-medical marijuana initiative on this year's ballot, Arkansans for Compassionate Care. Couch said he thinks that group’s proposal may receive more votes without his group also on the ballot because there may have been voter confusion over two similar issues appearing on the same ballot.
The Arkansans For Responsible Medicine group’s initiative did not include self-grown marijuana plants, while Arkansans for Compassionate Care’s initiative proposes people be allowed to grow some of their own plants.
"I think that people in Arkansas understand this really is a medicine and that we are really trying to get a medicine approved," said Melissa Fults, Campaign Director for Arkansans for Compassionate Care.
Couch said he will sign the other side’s petition to help them appear on the ballot, but he will “probably not” vote for the initiative come Election Day because he feels the other group’s proposal could easily be manipulated by state lawmakers if it were to pass.
To get a proposed measure placed on the November 2014 ballot, Arkansans for Compassionate Care will have to collect 62,507 petition signatures by July 7, a task Couch said he believes may be too difficult for the group.
Fults said her group hopes to make a go of its medicinal marijuana legalization by July's petition signature deadline.
"Primary's coming up this month and then we've got all of June, so I feel confident that we will make the ballot," she said.
A poll of potential voters showed about 57 percent support for legalizing medicinal marijuana, although Couch said that number is too close for comfort. More support in such polls may have convinced Couch’s group to keep pushing for their proposed initiative, he said.