A campaign chaired by a former Arkansas lawmaker has filed a constitutional amendment to put marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot—and it’s facing pushback from advocates who are working on two separate reform initiatives.
Eddie Armstrong, a Democrat who previously served as minority leader in the state House of Representatives before leaving office in 2019, first unveiled the plan to pursue legalization through the ballot late last year. Now that Armstrong’s group Responsible Growth Arkansas has formally filed the measure, its details are available.
The Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Existing medical cannabis dispensaries would be permitted to sell in the recreational market starting March 8, 2023, giving them an advantage.
Under the proposal, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing marijuana business licenses. There would be a two-tiered approach to cultivator licensing, with the first tier being reserved for eight existing dispensaries and the second tier going to 12 other applicants through a lottery system.
The measure would also repeal and replace certain provisions of the state’s medical marijuana law, which was approved by voters at the ballot in 2016. Language would be updated for rules on advertising, packaging, labeling and purchase limits.
Advocates who are collecting signatures for separate legalization ballot measures have raised concerns that the Responsible Growth Arkansas proposal would deliberately benefit a select number of businesses, including those that have financially backed it, and stamp out competition.
The five donors who contributed $350,000 each to the campaign—Bold Team, Good Day Farms Arkansas, Osage Creek Cultivation, DMCC and NSMC-OPCO—are all existing cultivators, The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Armstrong argued that his proposal is a “more responsible and regulated approach to expanding into this adult cannabis space for Arkansas,” and the campaign “took a look at how this could be done in a meaningful and well-regulated way for Arkansans.”
A 10 percent supplemental sales tax would be imposed on retail marijuana sales. Revenue would be used for law enforcement funding (15 percent), the University of Arkansas (10 percent), drug court programs (five percent), and the remainder would go to the state general fund after covering administrative costs.
Another issue with the new initiative for advocates is the lack of equity provisions. The measure does not provide a pathway for expungements, nor does it give licensing priorities to communities disproportionately impacted under prohibition.
There are two other campaigns that have already laid the groundwork to put cannabis legalization on the ballot this year. And both of those included equity components in their measures.
Arkansans for Marijuana Reform submitted the proposed constitutional amendment to the secretary of state’s office last year. It would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to four ounces of cannabis flower, two ounces of concentrates and cultivate up to six mature marijuana plants and six seedlings for personal use.
Under the group’s proposal, the state Department of Finance and Administration would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. They would have to issue at least one retail license per 15,000 residents. No individual or entity could possess more than one cultivation and one dispensary license.
Mellisa Fults of Arkansans for Marijuana Reform slammed the new measure from Armstrong’s group, saying “its’ going to be a horrible monopoly.”
“It’s going to be awful for the state,” she told the Democrat-Gazette. “There’s no expungement of records, so they’re going to be making millions upon millions of dollars when there’s people who still have a felony on their record for a joint.”
In contrast, under Fults’s measure, courts would be obligated to provide relief to people with past convictions for possession or sales of up to 16 ounces of cannabis or six plants. However, they would have some discretion as to whether relief constitutes release from incarceration, expungements of past records and/or the restoration of voting rights.
A separate group of activists with Arkansas True Grass is already in the signature gathering process for a 2022 ballot initiative that would create a system of regulated sales for adults 21 and older, allowing them to purchase up to four ounces of cannabis and grow up to 12 plants for personal use.
True Grass spokesperson Jesse Raphael called the new measure from Responsible Growth Arkansas “a power grab by the medical monopoly.”
“It locks in all of the production for the recreational marijuana for the current producers of medical marijuana,” he said.
Both True Grass and Arkansans for Marijuana Reform attempted to place marijuana legalization initiatives on the 2020 ballot, but both campaigns were derailed by the coronavirus pandemic and failed to collect enough signatures by the deadline.
That’s despite a federal judge’s ruling in May 2020 that the secretary of state needed accept signatures that were not collected in-person or notarized due to the excess burdens that arose during the health crisis.
Read the text of the latest medical cannabis legalization ballot initiative below:
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
FDA Sounds Alarm About Cereal and Candy that Appeal to Children
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) once again cautioned people to keep their edibles out of reach from children, especially the ones with sketchy, colorful packaging that might appeal to children.
On May 13, the FDA issued a warning, sounding the alarm about lookalike products that mimic candy and more recently—children’s cereal.
Copycat products that were highlighted in the warning mimic Cap’n Crunch, Cocoa Pebbles, Cocoa Puffs, Froot Loops, Fruity Pebbles, Nerds Ropes, Starbursts, Sour Patch Kids, and Trix, among others.
There are two reasons not to support gray area cannabis products like these: the potential appeal to children being one, and the other being the ethical violation of blatantly ripping off the intellectual property of mainstream food companies. But the FDA was mainly concerned about the physical symptoms that could occur in children.
“The FDA is aware of multiple media reports describing children and adults who accidentally consumed copycat edible products containing THC and experienced adverse events,” the organization wrote. “Additionally, from January 2021 through April 24, 2022, the FDA received over 100 adverse event reports related to children and adults who consumed edible products containing THC.”
Symptoms to look out for include “hallucinations” and “vomiting.”
“Some individuals who ate these edible products reportedly experienced adverse events such as hallucinations, increased heart rate and vomiting, and many required medical intervention or hospital admission,” the warning continues. “Seven of the reports specifically mention the edible product to be a copycat of popular foods, such as Cocoa Pebbles, Nerds Rope, Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, and Starburst.”
Separating Dangers from Myth
Both CBD and THC show promise in pediatrics for mental and physical conditions in controlled doses, such as intractable epilepsy, but children’s small bodies usually can’t withstand THC like an adult. If a small child (or pet) consumes them by accident, it can quickly become “a situation.” All adults carry the responsibility of keeping their edibles out of reach, and most do.
But sometimes, hysteria makes these warnings seem less credible. For children and adults, a “whiteout” can be a scary experience, but “overdoses solely by marijuana are unlikely,” even the CDC admits. At the crack of October 1, we receive our annual warning about supposed cannabis-infused candy being passed out to children on Halloween, but sometimes said stories are debunked.
The FDA gave three recommendations in the event that a child consumes an edible:
- Call 9-1-1 or get emergency medical help right away if you or someone in your care has serious side effects from these products. Always keep these products in a safe place out of reach of children.
- Call the local poison control center (1-800-222-1222) if a child has consumed these products. Do not wait for symptoms to call.
- Contact your healthcare provider if you or someone in your care recently ingested these products and you have health concerns.
The FDA also gave three ways to file a complaint in a dark warning to people with nosy neighbors, living in fear of people dropping the dime and calling Child Protective Services. It’s unclear if the complaint avenues are intended for parents themselves or others.
“Health care professionals, patients and consumers are encouraged to report complaints and cases of exposure and adverse events to the FDA’s MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program,” the warning reads.
- Call an FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator if you wish to speak directly to a person about your problem.
- Complete an electronic Voluntary MedWatch form online.
- Complete a paper Voluntary MedWatch form that can be mailed to the FDA.
Last year, over 100 people dialed in.
Copycat Edibles Are a Problem, Not Only for Children
As it turns out, mainstream food companies essentially want the same thing, but mostly for a different reason. On April 27, a group of a dozen major food companies called on Congress to crack down on the growing number of THC-infused copycat knockoffs.
“Children are increasingly threatened by the unscrupulous use of famous brand logos, characters, trademarks, and trade dress on THC-laced edible products. While cannabis (and incidental amounts of THC) may be legal in some states, the use of these famous marks, clearly without approval of the brand owners, on food products has created serious health and safety risks for consumers, particularly children, who cannot tell the difference between these brands’ true products and copycat THC products that leverage the brand’s fame for profit,” the companies wrote in the letter.
Parents with small children and teens are advised to double check that their edibles are out of reach from children.
First Psychedelic Drug Trial Firm Opens in London
In what is absolutely a sign that the new interest in psychedelic drugs has landed on the other side of The Pond, a new commercial facility has opened for trials in London.
Clerkenwell Health, a British start-up, will begin trials of psilocybin to help terminal patients manage the anxiety caused by this kind of diagnosis starting in August. The intent is to support trial participants through the end of palliative care. The facility will be located near Harley Street—a famed address globally for attracting doctors and firms offering state-of-the-art medical treatments and therapies. The firm will be working in cooperation with North American firms in both Canada and the United States which focus on treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders.
The move is not unexpected and indeed is likely to be just the next step in a widely anticipated trend. Biotech firms of all kinds, including for psychedelics starting with cannabis, have been eyeing the U.K., post-Brexit, as a haven for this kind of experimental research. This is because Britain is no longer bound by the rules and regulations of the European Medicines Agency and other regulatory bodies necessary to approve such research on a regional basis.
Beyond this, of course, other psychedelic drugs—and psilocybin in particular—are beginning to have a new renaissance in the research community globally. It is undeniable that this is due, in part, to cannabis reform. In many ways it is the ending of Prohibition globally, more than Brexit, which has opened these doors.
Regardless, there is great interest now in exploring all kinds of psychedelic drugs to treat mental health conditions ranging from mood disorders and PTSD to addiction.
The policies of the War on Drugs made research of all of them highly challenging. Getting both approvals and funding was next to impossible everywhere. Indeed, the only reason that Israel developed into a hub of cannabis research is that the U.S. was willing to fund research overseas that was specifically banned at home.
The Great Irony About British Psychedelic Research
As much as this development is certainly a step forward for this kind of treatment, there are multiple ironies present. The first is that the most widely used psychedelic drug involved in such reform discussions—namely cannabis—remains an illegal substance in the U.K. Further, despite efforts on the part of advocates, which at this point include the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recreational legalization has caused a backlash in his own party.
As a result, widespread medical reform is in a strange place here. Despite the U.K. being the largest exporter of medical cannabis in the world, legal access to cannabinoid-based medicine is still out of reach for the average British patient.
It may well be that the first recreational reform in Britain will happen first, if not even more ironically, just off its coast.
Where Drug Reform Is Headed in the U.K.
Given the political climate, it is clear that drug reform politically in the U.K. is not following science but rather profit. GW Pharmaceuticals led the commercial development of cannabis-based drugs outside of Israel for almost 20 years. During this time, the company’s drugs treated more global patients than domestic ones. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why the entire medical cannabis discussion became so heated over the last several years. When GW’s drugs did not work even on children, parents had to import alternatives from abroad.
Tragically, the current divisions in the Labour Party over drug reform will probably split the party, causing the need for a partisan discussion about drug reform, but also slowing it down even further.
That matters little to biotech firms now eyeing a regulatory environment outside of global norms and regulations and a whole new class of drugs to develop and roll out.
There clearly needs to be a general fast forward on these kinds of drugs and the U.K. is poised to be a center of that. But if the British insist on being the Island of Dr. Moreau for the benefit of a few firms, and to the detriment of the vast majority of its citizens, there is nothing to stop them.
Rhode Island Lawmakers to Vote on Cannabis Legalization
Lawmakers in Rhode Island are expected to vote on cannabis policy reform this week, with legislative committees in the state Senate and House of Representatives scheduled to consider identical bills to legalize recreational pot for adults.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Senate Bill 2430 sponsored by Democratic Senator Joshua Miller on Wednesday afternoon, according to a report in local media. And later the same day, the House Finance Committee will vote on House Bill 7593 from fellow Democrat Representative Scott A. Slater. If passed, the companion bills would legalize the possession and purchase of up to one ounce of cannabis by adults 21 and older and create a regulatory framework for the commercial production and sale of recreational cannabis.
“This historic shift in public policy will create a vibrant new marketplace in our state and end the failed practice of prohibition, which has caused such harm to so many in our communities,” Miller said when the legislation was unveiled earlier this year. “To help address those past wrongs, and to ensure all Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to share the economic benefits associated with legalizations, equity is a central focus of this legislation.”
“The time for Rhode Island to move forward with cannabis legalization is now,” Miller, a longtime supporter of cannabis legalization, said in a statement when the legislation was unveiled earlier this year. “This historic shift in public policy will create a vibrant new marketplace in our state and end the failed practice of prohibition, which has caused such harm to so many in our communities.”
In addition to permitting public possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, the bills allow adults to possess up to 10 ounces of cannabis in a private location. The legislation also permits adults to grow up to three immature and three mature cannabis plants at home.
The legislation authorizes up to 33 cannabis retailers, including nine hybrid dispensaries that would carry both medical and recreational cannabis. Cannabis would be taxed a total of 20%, including a 10% cannabis excise tax, 7% sales tax, and a tax of 3% that would go to local governments hosting licensed cannabis businesses. Local jurisdictions could opt out of allowing retail cannabis businesses by placing a ballot question on the ballot for this year’s general election, but communities that vote not to allow dispensaries will not be eligible for revenue generated by cannabis taxes.
The bills would create a three-member cannabis control commission to oversee Rhode Island’s regulated cannabis industry. Once the new agency is formed, it would also take on oversight of the state’s medical canabis industry. The legislation also establishes a cannabis regulatory office and a cannabis advisory board within the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation.
Governor’s Office Objects to Bill’s Details
Although legalizing cannabis for adult use is supported by Democratic Governor Daniel McKee, his administration has expressed “significant constitutional concerns” about how the three members of the cannabis control commission would be appointed and, if necessary, removed from the panel. The most recent version of the legislation, which has the support of leadership in both the House and Senate, would give lawmakers a say in the commission’s appointments. But Claire Richards, the governor’s executive counsel, wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that such appointments are usually made by the governor.
“Such pervasive control by the legislature impermissibly enlarges its constitutional role at the expense of the executive,” Richards wrote in the letter quoted by the Providence Journal.
Under the Rhode Island Constitution, Richards noted, only the governor has the authority to appoint “all members of any commission” that exercise executive functions such as approving rules for cannabis retailers, issuing licenses to dispensaries and inspecting retail businesses.
But the most recent version of the legislation allows the governor to appoint members to the commission only from a list of candidates recommended by the Senate President and the House of Representatives. Additionally, the bills allow the governor to remove someone from the commission only with the approval of the Senate.
After Richards made the administration’s concerns known, spokesmen for the House and Senate disputed the contention that the legislation is unconstitutional.
“This bill, and specifically the appointment process, is consistent with Rhode Island’s separation-of-powers principles and the law flowing from the Rhode Island Supreme Court,” the spokesmen wrote in a joint statement.
They added that the appointment process “is similar to the process used in the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission and the Judicial Nominating Commission.”
Social Equity Built into Legislation
Miller noted when the bill was introduced in March that “equity is a central focus of this legislation.” The measure includes provisions to use licensing fees and penalties to fund grants and technical assistance to applicants from underserved communities and those harmed by the War on Drugs. The legislation also reserves one license in each of six retail districts for social equity applicants, and another in each district for a co-op form of retail dispensary.
“It is the right public policy for Rhode Island to make cannabis possession and sales legal. We have been studying legalization proposals here for many years, and we now can look to our neighboring states’ experiences and see that taxing and regulating cannabis makes sense,” Slater said in March.
“I’m especially proud that we have made a very deliberate effort to address social equity through this bill,” he added. “We have to recognize the harm that prohibition has done to communities, particularly minorities and poor, urban neighborhoods and ensure that those communities get the support they need to benefit from legalization.”
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