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Opponents claim medical-marijuana proposal flawed

LITTLE ROCK — A ballot question on medical marijuana should be declared legally insufficient for the November general election because its language does not adequately inform voters about the proposal, opponents argued in a brief filed Wednesday with the state Supreme Court.

The measure’s sponsors and the secretary of state’s office argued in separate filings that the popular name and ballot title accurately describe the proposed initiated act, which has been certified for the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

The group Arkansas for Compassionate Care is sponsoring the measure, which if approved by voters would allow up to 30 medical marijuana dispensaries in the state but would give cities and counties the option of banning them. The marijuana would only be available to people with prescriptions for certain health conditions, including chronic pain, glaucoma, Hepatitis C and those who are terminally ill.

The proposal would allow limited cultivation of marijuana by a qualifying patient, or the patient’s designated caregiver, if the patient lives more than five miles from a dispensary.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and Secretary of State Mark Martin have approved the wording of the ballot question, but the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values, a coalition of Christian conservative groups that includes the Family Council Action Committee and the Faith and Ethics Committee, has filed a lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to strike the measure from the ballot or order that any votes it receives not be counted.

In its filing Wednesday, the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values argued that the 384-word ballot question is too short to describe the 8,700-word proposed initiated act.

The coalition also argued that the ballot question uses terms such as “medical marijuana” that are partisan and designed to give voters a favorable impression of the measure.

“In order to better identify the fundamental provisions of the ballot title and act the popular name should read, ‘An Act to Permit Qualifying Persons to Grow, Possess and Use Marijuana,’ the coalition said in the filing.

The coalition also argued that the ballot language fails to inform voters that marijuana is an illegal substance under federal law, and that the measure should be struck from the ballot because it would violate the state and federal constitutions.

Arkansans for Compassionate Care argued in its filing that the ballot title adequately describes the proposal. The group said the ballot title includes the statement that “marijuana use, possession and distribution for any purpose remain unlawful under federal law.”

The group also argued that the proposal would not conflict with the state or federal constitutions, noting that when McDaniel certified the language he mentioned in a footnote that “states are free to enact medical marijuana laws and otherwise legalize or decriminalize marijuana for purposes of state law only.”

Martin argued in his filing that the popular name and ballot title are legally sufficient and that challenges to the constitutionality of the proposal are premature before voters have approved the measure.

“This court has previously said that it will not entertain pre-election substantive constitutional challenges to a proposed measure,” Martin said in the filing.

Arkansans for Compassionate Care has asked the court to hear oral arguments in the case.

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