Medical Cannabis Legalization Faces Uphill Battle in Arkansas as Signature Drive Stumbles

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Marijuana advocates behind a push to regulate medical pot in Arkansas need to pick up the pace if they want to have a realistic chance of getting the measure before voters in 2012.

Over the past six months, Arkansans for Compassionate Care has gathered 16,000 signatures for a petition to legalize MMJ. That’s just 25 percent of the 62,507  needed to get the initiative on the ballot.

In reality, the situation is even more dire than it appears. Organizers of petition drives typically must gather thousands of extra signatures over and above the number needed, as a certain percentage will most certainly get thrown out during the validation process.

So in all likelihood, the group must collect at least 70,000 signatures to have a safe buffer, meaning that legalization efforts in Arkansas are even further behind than they appear. With signatures due July 6, the group needs roughly 11,000 John Hancocks a month to hit the 70,000 mark. That’s significantly higher than the 2,666 average from the past six months.

Arkansans for Compassionate Care remains confident, saying that it will aggressively target voters in Sebastian County, where more people are sympathetic to medical marijuana issues. But the clock is ticking, and the group doesn’t have much momentum at this point.

The petition calls for legalizing and regulating the use and sale of cannabis for medical purposes. Under the proposal, the number of dispensaries would be capped at 30 to limit the industry’s growth, and marijuana would only be given to seriously ill patients.

Arkansas isn’t exactly the most cannabis-friendly state in the nation. A previous attempt in 2004 to get a similar measure on the ballot sputtered quickly when organizers failed to get enough signatures, while a medical pot bill introduced in the state Legislature in 2003 died in committee.