Majority Of Arkansas Voters Back Cannabis Legalization

Should Arkansas voters get the opportunity to decide on cannabis legalization at the ballot later this year, a new poll suggests the proposal just might have enough support to pass.

The latest edition of the Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll found that 53.5 percent of registered voters there believe that cannabis should be legal for adults aged 21 and older. Thirty-two percent said that cannabis should only be legal for medicinal purposes, while only 10.5 percent said that it should be broadly illegal for any reason.

Dr. Jay Barth, an emeritus professor of politics at Hendrix College who helped organize the survey, said that over “our time of polling, perhaps no issue has shown more movement than have Arkansans’ attitudes on marijuana legalization,” noting that the shift in attitudes dovetails with two separate efforts to legalize medical cannabis in the state.

“After an attempt at legalization of medical marijuana failed at the ballot box in 2012, Arkansas voters narrowly passed a revised proposal in 2016. While it took longer than expected for the marijuana bureaucracy—including certified growers and dispensaries—to be established, Arkansans have become used to the presence of visible, legal marijuana in the state. The question now is whether it is time for the next big step: the legalization of regulated recreational marijuana for adults in the state. Our survey suggests that Arkansas voters may be ready to take that step,” Barth said in his analysis of the poll results.

The findings should be encouraging to a group that is trying to place a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas on the state’s ballot in November. 

Known as Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group launched in the fall under the leadership of Eddie Armstrong, a former Democratic lawmaker in the state.

Armstrong’s campaign joins a separate effort from a group called Arkansas True Grass to also get a legalization proposal on this year’s ballot.

In order for the measures to qualify for the ballot, advocates must gather a minimum of 89,151 signatures of registered voters –– equivalent to 10 percent of the number of ballots submitted in the 2018 election.

After voters approved a measure legalizing medical cannabis in 2016, sales officially began in 2019. A year later, the state had racked up more than $50 million medicinal pot sales.

Barth waded into the crosstabs of the survey, which was released on Tuesday, saying that “while a slight majority of the state’s voters support recreational marijuana, there are variations across key voting groups although there is increasing consensus opposed to criminalization of the drug.”

“Even among Republican voters, the most opposed to legalization at all, eight in ten support either medical marijuana or recreational marijuana. While a plurality of Republicans support stopping at medical marijuana as the policy of the state, very healthy majorities of Democrats (71%) and Independents (64%) support recreational marijuana. This may put Republican statewide candidates in a tough spot as they attempt to appeal to voters outside their party while maintaining their GOP base if the issue is before voters in the fall,” Barth said.

He continued: “Aside from political party, the greatest variation is shown across age groups. While seven in ten voters below 45 years support recreational cannabis and a slight majority of those 45 to 64 support the change, a plurality of the voters above 65 believe that maintaining the current legalization of medical cannabis only is the right place for the state’s policy. Men are also more supportive of recreational cannabis while women are more supportive of medical cannabis.”

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