AR Will Be First Southern State to Vote on Medical Pot

By Chrisanne Grise 09/04/12

Despite political opposition and a lawsuit, an MMJ backer tells The Fix that public support for the measure is strong.

Will other southern states follow suit? Photo via

This fall, Arkansas voters will be the first in the South to take on the issue of medical marijuana. “This is an issue that hasn't been ready for primetime yet in the South,” says Jill Harris, managing director of Drug Policy Action. “It may be that it's starting to be, and that's a good thing." Many of the state’s elected officials and law enforcement agencies oppose the idea, including Governor Mike Beebe, who is expressing concerns about federal marijuana laws, along with the cost of regulating dispensaries. "Those are serious questions, and a lot of that is unanswerable because you don't know how many dispensing places are going to apply or going to be granted," he says. In addition, one of the state’s conservative groups, the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values, has already filed a lawsuit to remove the proposal from the election ballot, arguing that it is misleading to voters. "By introducing more addictive substances into society, it is a family values issue," says Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council Action Committee of Arkansas, part of the coalition attempting to block the proposal.

But despite the resistance, marijuana advocates are determined to hold their own. "Arkansas voters are savvy and compassionate," says Christopher Kell, spokesperson for Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACC), the group advocating for the proposal. Kell tells The Fix that the lawsuit is a "nuisance," but as the group worked with the Attorney General's office to get the measure approved, they are not worried about its legality. He also says that public support is very strong in the state, and believes telling the stories of patients with cancer, PTSD and other illnesses will influence voters to support the measure. "I think once you tell the story and put a face to it, the numbers go up significantly," he says. "I think that our chances of passing are very strong." ACC gathered more than 100,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot, and say they will answer the lawsuit in court. While past efforts to get medical marijuana on the ballot in Arkansas have been unsuccessful, two cities have managed to approve referendums allowing police to consider arrests for small amounts of pot as low priority. Arkansas is not the only state with medical marijuana in the spotlight this fall—Massachusetts voters are also expected to vote on medical marijuana, and a measure may end up on North Dakota's ballot. "I hope that all the other states will follow our lead," Kell says. "This is not about recreational use, it's a matter of compassion and it's about caring for patients who are suffering."

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Chrisanne Grise.jpeg

Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices,,, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.