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Can Arkansas Really Welcome Medical Pot?

Arkansas' pro-medical marijuana campaigners tell The Fix why they're optimistic for the November 6 vote—despite the latest polls.

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Arkansas' Yes campaign Photo via

By Will Godfrey

10/23/12

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Arkansas may seem an unlikely venue for legal medical marijuana, but a determined group called Arkansans for Compassionate Care is pushing hard for just that. They've succeeded in getting the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act—or "Issue 5"—onto the ballot for November 6. If passed, it would allow Arkansas residents with qualifying medical conditions to buy and use pot, establishing "a system for the cultivation, acquisition and distribution of marijuana...through nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries and granting those nonprofit dispensaries limited immunity." It's a long way, then, from being the most radical state marijuana policy on offer next month. But Arkansas has deep conservative roots. The latest Talk Business-Hendrix College poll shows 54% of respondents opposing Issue 5, with 38% in favor and 8% undecided. That represents a recent swing away from MMJ: a poll in late July showed a much tighter race, with 47% in favor and 46% against. So why the change? “There has been a very effective earned media effort from law enforcement and conservative groups since this measure made the ballot," says Talk Business executive editor Roby Brock.

Chris Kell, the campaign strategist for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, tells The Fix that he believes the latest poll figures are "temporary," and caused by the fact that "the opposition is very well organized, with a well-oiled propaganda machine." He denounces one recent TV commercial for the No campaign as "pretty unbelievable—full of misinformation and stereotypes" and "making out we're going to get drug dealers and full legalization." His organization plans to combat such "scare tactics" through a network of volunteers dispensing information, a new Facebook page debunking opponents' claims, a paid media campaign just kicking in, and support from public figures like Montel Williams. "The poll numbers won't reflect all this yet," Kell argues. Standing in line yesterday to cast his early vote in "a pretty conservative county," he says—and throughout 10 years' experience in Arkansas politics—"about the only people I've heard come out against it are our opponents." We'll soon know how accurate this impression was.

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