Arkansas voters reject recreational cannabis legalization

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Image of Old Town Hall in Fayetteville, Arkansas

(This story has been updated to reflect that the measure now has been defeated.)

Arkansas voters on Tuesday night rejected a ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis, media outlets reported, dealing a setback to efforts to launch the first adult-use market in a deep-red, conservative Southern state.

Issue 4, which faced unfavorable odds, encountered opposition from a strong and unlikely coalition of political and religious conservatives as well as progressive cannabis advocates.

MJBizDaily projected that adult-use sales would have totaled $350 million to $400 million in the first year and $575 million-$650 million by year four.

The ballot measure struggled to find influential backers, partly because it limited the recreational market primarily to existing medical marijuana retailers.

The state’s existing 40 licensed MMJ dispensaries would have gained access to the adult-use market and received an additional recreational retail license – resulting in a total of only 80 permits.

The measure also featured several restrictions, including:

  • No allowance for home growing.
  • No expungement of past marijuana offenses.
  • No social equity provisions that would have helped people of color and those without access to capital to participate in the adult-use industry.

Several prominent state politicians opposed the bill, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was elected the state’s first female governor, and Arkansas Republican U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman. Boozman was easily reelected to a third term.

Initiative backers, which include Responsible Growth Arkansas, said the measure could raise as much as $460 million in tax revenue over the next five years, with 10% of that dedicated to research and law enforcement.

Chris Casacchia can be reached at

Where cannabis is legal in the U.S.