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Back in the 1980s, First Lady Nancy Reagan launched an anti-drug campaign based on three simple words: Just say no.

The spouse of the 40th U.S. president wanted to build up resistance among the nation's young people to the peer pressure some of them felt to try drugs. Some hailed her efforts as needed to combat the growing scourge of drug abuse; others said the slogan was too simplistic an answer.

What’s the point?

Fearing the popularity of a move to legalize marijuana for recreational use, opponents hope to thwart petition efforts to get the pro-pot measures on the ballot.

In 2020, it looks like Arkansas will get its own version of a similar campaign. "Just don't sign."

Arkansas is a little less than a year away from the general election. Two proposals are circulating to get the legalization of marijuana for recreational use on that ballot.

In Arkansas, sponsors who hope to get those measures on the ballot will have to obtain 89,151 signatures from registered voters by July. They'll do that by canvassing crowds wherever they can find them, urging voters to sign petitions.

Two measures have been put forward by different marijuana advocacy groups. One group is pushing for passage of two measures, one known as the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, the other the Arkansas Marijuana Expungement Amendment. A different group is pushing the Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Amendment of 2020.

Knowing full well state lawmakers have put up new barriers within the initiative process, the advocates for marijuana recognize they'll have to be careful to follow the letter of the law when it comes to getting those signatures. They remain confident Arkansans, if given the chance, will favor their state becoming the first in the conservative South to clear the way for recreational marijuana.

State Sen. Cecile Bledsoe is pretty confident of that, too, apparently. She told this newspaper she fears if either groups' amendments qualify for the ballot, they'll have a favorable chance of passing.

Bledsoe and other opponents of those measures, then, want to put some peer pressure of their own on voting Arkansans. "Just don't sign," is their campaign to encourage voters to keep walking when petitioners ask them to put their John Hancocks on paper. If petitioners fail, there won't be any worry of general election voters turning Arkansas into the South's World of Weed.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is supportive of the "just don't sign" campaign, saying marijuana use will increase if its recreational use is legalized. That certainly would seem to be the obvious outcome. Opponents of marijuana liberalization say using the drug diminishes cognitive function for people below 25, a loss that can't be regained. Advocates want marijuana legalized, in part, so that it can be a taxable industry and the drug will stop being an excuse for locking people up.

Arkansas has slow-rolled development of a medicinal marijuana industry, approved in 2016 but only budding into full-fledged retail outlets this year. Buyers must be certified by the Arkansas Department of Health as having qualifying medical conditions before they can purchase marijuana. If the petitioning efforts and vote on recreational marijuana are successful, Arkansas will have an open market for a new agricultural industry.

The "just don't sign" campaign does seem a little undemocratic. The basic message comes across as "We know Arkansans want this, but maybe we can keep them from voting on it." That might prove a hard sell, but ultimately, they can hardly be blamed for a campaign to take the decision out of voters' hands. Call them the Gus Malzahns of election year strategy (see Iron Bowl, 2019 version).

It might be a different way to win, but it's still within the rules.

Commentary on 12/03/2019

Print Headline: A creative playbook

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