By Eli McVey
Medical marijuana in Arkansas is dead in the water.
This is the popular thinking among many industry insiders now that two competing MMJ initiatives have made the Arkansas ballot this fall.
But don’t lose hope just yet.
Both initiatives have strong support from voters, and evidence from previous elections where competing proposals made the ballot suggests that at least one – if not both – measures could win.
The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act (AMCA) was the first initiative to make the ballot back in early July, garnering 77,516 verified signatures. A competing legalization proposal called the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (AMMA) then qualified on Aug. 31 with 97,284 verified signatures.
The measures both call for the legalization and regulation of medical marijuana, but they differ in several key ways. The AMCA, for example, would establish approximately 39 nonprofit, vertically-integrated dispensaries throughout the state, and allow for home cultivation in certain circumstances. Alternatively, the AMMA would authorize for-profit business – between 20 to 40 dispensaries and four to eight cultivators – and not allow for any home cultivation. A detailed breakdown of each initiative can be found here.
Such situations are rare, making it difficult to predict what might happen in this case.
But a 2010 study provides some insight – and cause for hope. The British Journal of Political Science examined the outcomes of elections in California between 1968 and 2005 where competing ballot initiatives were placed before voters. The report found that at least one initiative passed half the time.
When both ballot initiatives fail, it’s often because the two are presented to voters as opposites – as in, if you are for one initiative, you’re against the other. A polarizing campaign that pushes voters towards one measure over the other splits support, causing both proposals to fail.
In the absence of a particularly divisive campaign between the two MMJ initiatives, and assuming that most Arkansas voters are not well-versed enough in the nuances of each measure to prefer one over the other, it’s possible both legalization proposals could pass.
This scenario is even more realistic given that a poll taken in June found that both initiatives have support from more than 60% of voters.
The poll, however, did not question voters on both the AMCA and AMMA simultaneously. Rather, one group was asked to weigh in only on the AMCA initiative, while a separate group responded to questions about the AMMA.
Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Rob Kampia said that his organization’s own internal, professional polling – which has not been publicly released – shows support for both initiatives is significantly lower when voters are asked about each proposal concurrently. In other words, many voters might vote for one but not the other, hence splitting the vote and making it more likely neither passes.
“Arkansas is a probable win if there’s one question on the ballot, and it’s a definite loss if there are two on the ballot,” Kampia said recently. “I’m calling this election early.”
Certainly, the inclusion of two MMJ initiatives makes legalization less likely than if only one was on the ballot. But it’s not a foregone conclusion that both will fail.
Antagonism between the AMCA and AMMA campaigns has been relatively restrained to this point, which is an encouraging sign for medical cannabis legalization in Arkansas. If that continues, the cannabis industry may very well be celebrating a win in the state this November.
Eli McVey can be reached at [email protected]