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In 2020, it looks like marijuana's reputation for producing a laid-back feeling may take a hit.

Not that kind of hit.

What’s the point?

Arkansas will be the front lines of a battle over recreational marijuana in 2020.

Only people in a haze would fail to recognize that 2020 is destined to be an intense political year. And now -- hold your breath -- it looks like a fight is on for the future of recreational use of marijuana in the Natural State.

And it's not just going to be a battle at the ballot box.

At least two efforts are underway to get the issue of legalized recreational marijuana on the ballot. They would essentially accomplish the same goal, but structure it in different ways.

The Drug Policy Education Group has filed a pair of proposed constitutional amendments. One would legalize the use of recreational marijuana. The group's second amendment would erase past marijuana convictions.

Arkansas True Grass is another group planning a push for a single amendment that would seek to achieve the same goals.

The state's voters in 2016 backed an amendment to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. Now, the new amendments want to turn the state into a marijuana free-for-all for adult use, which of course won't be free. They argue marijuana could become a new cash crop for farmers; that legalization would help get rid of the criminal market that supports gangs; and that people should have a personal right to use the drug.

So where's the battle? A few days ago in Rogers, more than 200 people showed up to discuss the launch of a campaign to convince voters not to sign any petitions that would put recreational marijuana measures on the ballot. It shouldn't go unnoticed that it was organized by state Sen. Cecile Bledsoe and attended by the Honorable Asa Hutchinson, governor of Arkansas.

Anyone wanting a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot will have to collect 89,151 signatures of voters. Among those at the Rogers meeting, several said the best way to thwart a victory for marijuana advocates is to keep them from earning a spot on the November 2020 ballot.

Hutchinson warned "Arkansas voters are in a passing mood," citing the medical pot and casino gambling measures passed in the last two general elections. Melissa Fults, who heads the Drug Policy Education Group, seemed to appreciate acknowledgement that the measures would likely pass.

It will be intriguing to observe how the anti-marijuana group pursues its mission. Will it be a big advertising campaign? Or will they put boots on the ground, hoping to meet the enemy in the trenches -- which could be anywhere that large groups of people gather in the state.

Hey, it's 'Merica. And this is the political process.

Certainly, the governor and other state leaders have to be careful. Their involvement could leave the impression that they are going to use the power of state government to defeat the signature-gathering effort of pro-marijuana forces. But as individuals, they have every right to give voice to what they believe is best for Arkansas.

We oppose legalization of recreational marijuana. It's a drug. It should be regulated as a drug, including its evaluation by the Food and Drug Administration as other drugs are.

Establishing drug available and regulation by popular vote isn't healthy. Look at the whole mess involving the unregulated vaping industry. Strict government regulation is, in some cases, a good thing.

Where we'd like to see Arkansas high is on lists for job creation, educational opportunities, tourism, environmental protection and integrity in government.

Commentary on 10/05/2019

Print Headline: High times ahead

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