Pubdate: Thu, 25 Aug 2016
Source: Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette (Fayetteville, AR)
Copyright: 2016 Northwest Arkansas Newspapers LLC.
Author: Brian Fanney


Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana filed suit Wednesday to stop 
the state from counting votes cast in November for a proposed 
initiated act that would legalize the drug for medical purposes.

The complaint, filed with the Arkansas Supreme Court, alleges 
problems with the ballot title of the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act.

"It contains misleading statements, omits material information that 
is essential for a fair understanding of the Act, and is tinged with 
partisan coloring," the complaint reads in part.

According to the complaint, the ballot title "falsely tells voters 
that the Act limits the use of marijuana"; "gives the false 
impression that all marijuana will be tested for quality, safety, and 
potency"; and "fails to tell the voters that the Act permits 
'cannabis care centers' to sell food and drink that contains 
marijuana," among other issues.

Melissa Fults, campaign manager for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, 
the group sponsoring the act, said she's not worried about the 
lawsuit. She noted that the attorney general's office edited the 
ballot title to ensure clarity. The ballot title was approved by the 
office of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel on Aug. 14, 2014.

"I don't think they have a leg to stand on. I'm not worried. I'm 
really not," Fults said. "With everything else we've gone through, 
this is nothing. This is just a little ripple in the water."

Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana is asking the Supreme Court to 
prevent the secretary of state from "certifying any ballots cast for 
the Act at the general election to be held on November 8, 2016." The 
group also wants the ballot title declared insufficient and wants to 
be awarded attorneys' fees. Monday is the deadline for candidates to 
draw ballot positions for the election. Soon after, counties will 
begin printing the ballots.

State Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, who is serving as spokesman for 
the anti-medical marijuana group, said he doesn't believe that the 
Supreme Court will act before ballots are printed, so the group is 
asking that election officials not count the votes cast.

Members of Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana include the Arkansas 
Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation, the 
Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities, the Family Council Action 
Committee, the Arkansas Committee for Ethics Policy and psychiatrist 
Melanie Conway.

The group formed earlier this week.

Conway is designated on the suit as the plaintiff, both individually 
and on behalf of Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana. The defendant 
is Secretary of State Mark Martin, whose office certified the 
proposal had sufficient valid signatures to be placed on the ballot.

"Calling this stuff medicine, pushing it as a safe therapy, is just 
not accurate and, along with the other language issues that are 
highlighted in the complaint, we felt like we needed to pursue this," 
Bledsoe said. "We want a fair representation of what the legislation 
is and what it does."

Asked about the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, a competing 
measure, Bledsoe said: "We need to look at the language a little bit 
more carefully, and we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

The amendment has not been certified for the ballot, but David Couch, 
a Little Rock lawyer backing the amendment, submitted more signatures 
to the secretary of state's office on Friday.

In 2012, the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values sued over the 
ballot title of an act backed by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, and lost.

At the time, the coalition included Family Council President Jerry 
Cox and Faith and Ethics Council Executive Director Larry Page. Both 
are also part of Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana.

The 2012 coalition argued that the ballot title, at 384 words, was 
too long and voters would not have adequate time in the voting booth 
to review it. The coalition also argued that the title didn't give 
voters enough detail about what the law would do.

"The title informs the voters in an intelligible, honest and 
impartial manner," Justice Karen Baker wrote in the opinion four 
years ago. "The ballot title is not unduly long, nor is it complex or 
misleading." No justices dissented. The proposal lost on Election 
Day, getting 507,757 votes out of 1,045,655 cast.

Wednesday, Bledsoe said the group could still file a complaint about 
the way signatures were gathered for the initiated act.

"We have some concerns over the signatures as well, but we felt that 
the language was more problematic at this point in time," he said. 
"We haven't ruled out attacking the signatures, because we do feel 
like there are some issues, but we decided to start with the language 
because we felt like it was more problematic."

Fults, the campaign manager for the ballot measure, said the lawsuit 
wasn't a surprise.

"They sued us in 2012, and they lost," she said. "I don't expect 
anything different this time."

Judd Deere, spokesman for McDaniel's successor, Attorney General 
Leslie Rutledge, declined to comment about the lawsuit.
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