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Arkansas Court OKs Medical Marijuana Referendum

Four years after rejecting a medical marijuana bill in their state, Arkansas voters will be asked to consider the issue a second time in a November referendum.

The 2012 measure was defeated by a narrow margin, but as The Associated Press notes, more states have passed medical and recreational marijuana laws in the four years since, and general attitudes are trending toward legalization across the country.

The referendum became a reality when the state's Supreme Court shot down a challenge from opposition groups and ruled that one of two marijuana referendums can appear on the November ballot.

That referendum, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016, would make it legal for patients suffering from certain medical conditions to buy marijuana through state-approved dispensaries. Another marijuana referendum is similar, but would also grant people the right to grow their own marijuana if they live too far from approved dispensaries, the AP reported.

The referendum faces opposition from a range of Arkansas groups, including the state Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, and the Little Rock-based Family Council Action Committee. The latter describes itself as a group dedicated to "strengthening traditional family values found and reflected in the Bible" by influencing public policy.

The Medical Marijuana Amendment "is a flawed measure that hurts Arkansans," the Family Council's Jerry Cox told the AP. Cox said he fears an approved medical marijuana bill would eventually lead to a push for recreational marijuana in the state.

The Family Council and other groups argued that the amendment should inform voters that it could have an impact "on employers, landlords, churches and schools," and said language in the voting booth should make it clear that lawyers, doctors and other professionals can still practice even if they are approved for medical marijuana, KFSM reported.

Opposition groups who challenged the referendum asked the Arkansas Supreme Court justices to interpret the content of the amendment, the judges wrote in their opinion. But interpreting the meaning of the amendment isn't within the court's purview, Associate Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson wrote.

"We conclude that while inside the voting booth, the voters will be able to reach an intelligent and informed decision for or against The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016," she wrote in the court's opinion.

Arkansas is one of four states with medical marijuana proposals on their ballots this year, according to the AP, potentially putting them in the company with 25 other states -- plus the District of Columbia -- which have legalized the drug in some form or decriminalized its possession.

The Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for legalized medical and recreational marijuana, blasted Arkansas for having "some of the harshest marijuana laws in the nation. In 2012, the group noted, more than 90 percent of people arrested for marijuana-related offenses were charged with possession, not selling.

And while police in the state arrested more than 5,700 people for marijuana-related offenses that year, 91 percent of reported burglaries and 90 percent of motor vehicle thefts in the state went unsolved.

"Law enforcement should stop wasting time on marijuana-related offenses," the group said, "and use its resources to stop real crime."

Sources: The Associated Press, KFSM, Marijuana Policy Project / Photo credit: Evan-Amos/Wikimedia Commons

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