The Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday rejected ballot titles of two proposed constitutional amendments that would legalize recreational marijuana and remove Pope County as a casino gaming location.
The board's role in approving ballot titles is relatively new and it is likely sponsors will appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The seven-member Board of Election Commissioners became responsible for certifying ballot titles in 2019, when the legislature removed the Attorney General from that role.
The board is made up of the Secretary of State, two members appointed by the Governor, and one member each appointed by the chair of the state Democratic party, the chair of the state Republican party, the President Pro Tempore of the Arkansas Senate, and the Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives.
The board's rejection on August 3 follows Monday's certification from the Secretary of State that Responsible Growth Arkansas had collected enough voter signatures to put recreational marijuana on the ballot.
RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA PROPOSAL
The proposal would change Arkansas' medical marijuana amendment from 2016 to allow recreational sales and the opening of more dispensaries and cultivation facilities.
The group's attorney, Steve Lancaster, spoke in favor of the proposal's ballot title at the August 3 board meeting and said they went "above and beyond" what's required explaining to voters the changes in the proposed amendment.
"The perfect ballot title can not be created," Lancaster said, adding that had the title explained every section that would be deleted from the original law, it would be longer than the amendment itself.
Two commissioners said they thought the ballot title should more explicitly explain how the proposal would remove a requirement that foods or drinks combined with marijuana not exceed 10 mg of THC per portion. The title instead mentioned the proposal would eliminate an existing section of law. A person must read that section of the law to know what was being eliminated.
One of those commissioners also said she was concerned that removing requirements for owners to have background checks could allow people with criminal backgrounds to own marijuana facilities.
Former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel asked the board Wednesday to reject a ballot title seeking to remove Pope County as a casino gaming location.
Pope County is one of four locations approved by voters in 2018. McDaniel is representing the Cherokee Nation Businesses, which received the casino license for Pope County after several lawsuits.
McDaniel recalled how when he was responsible for reviewing ballot titles, he thought it was important to consider why a sponsor was pushing an issue.
Pope County residents who formed Fair Play for Arkansas 2022 received financial support from the Choctaw Nation for their campaign to eliminate the fourth location. The Choctaw Nation owns a casino in Oklahoma that is within 100 miles of Pope County.
McDaniel said voters should know the impact on the Cherokee Nation and county if they lost the license.
"It's an omission great enough to warrant decertification," he said.
Ben Cross, the county judge in Pope County, also asked the board to reject the proposal because the wording referred to "casinos" rather than "casino," throwing into doubt the impact the amendment would have if passed.
The Secretary of State's Office has until August 25 to send the official November ballot to county election commissions.