More than 200, including governor, meet in Rogers to oppose marijuana legalization

More than 200 meet, hear from legalization opponents

Cecile Bledsoe
Cecile Bledsoe

ROGERS -- More than 200 people including Gov. Asa Hutchinson went to the launch of a campaign to convince voters to not sign petitions to place recreational marijuana legalization on the 2020 ballot.

Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, organized the Thursday evening meeting at the First Baptist Church in Rogers, a church where she and the governor are members.


The active ingredient in modern marijuana strains reach as high as 20%, compared to the 9% that was normal in the 1990s, according to state drug director Kirk Lane

Petitions to get the measure on the ballot will require 89,151 signatures of registered Arkansas voters. Holding the petitions' total to less than that is a daunting task, the governor, Bledsoe and other speakers said at the meeting. But it remains the best chance of stopping the proposal, they said. That number represents one-tenth of the vote in the last governor's election. That fraction is the legal minimum to place a measure on the ballot by petition.

"Ten or 15 years ago, ballot measures by petition were earned by the hard sweat of our citizens," Hutchinson told the crowd. "Now well-funded groups can hire canvassers to do the work." Organizers tallied 228 in the audience.

"Arkansas voters are in a passing mood," Hutchinson told the crowd about ballot measures. He never expected to be governor of a state that has legalized medical marijuana and casino gambling, he said. Both those measures got to the ballot by petition.

Melissa Fults is executive director of the Drug Policy Education Group, which supports legalization. "They have just acknowledged that if this gets on the ballot it will pass," she said Friday. She also said she wishes her group had the kind of financial resources the governor attributes to it.

Hutchinson said at the meeting legalization in other states received contributions from all over the country and recent elections in Arkansas, such as voter approval of casinos, showed a pattern of outside support. Gregory Bledsoe, the state surgeon general, also attended the meeting. He told the group legalization efforts have been supported by the tobacco industry as it diversifies from tobacco products. "Big marijuana is just big tobacco painted green," Bledsoe said. Gregory Bledsoe is the son of the senator.

Sen. Bledsoe's effort doesn't have a name, a director or similar organization, the senator said. The "do not sign" effort relies on volunteers to bring up facts she and other opponents have gathered concerning recreational legalization in other states, she said.

In particular, the governor, Gregory Bledsoe, the senator, and other speakers pointed to an increase in marijuana use where recreational marijuana is legalized.

Gregory Bledsoe said light but regular marijuana use before the age of 25 diminishes cognitive function, or thinking skills. "Even if you stop, you will get some of that function back but it will never get back to baseline," he said.

Fults' group had representatives at the meeting and the facts presented are either misleading or partially presented to put marijuana use in an unfavorable light, she said.

"For instance, they presented figures on how often marijuana was detected in cases involving traffic deaths," she said. "They did not say in those figures what other substances were found.

"I don't want anyone impaired in any way to be driving next to me," Fults said. "But if I had to, I'd choose someone who had smoked some marijuana to someone who drank a pint of whiskey."

Hutchinson is a former director of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. He has seen all manner of figures used in drug debates and an impartial review shows greater legal access to the drug leads to greater use by youth.

He said illegal drug use nationally was on a slight downward trend. Reducing marijuana use should be a goal, he said, not encouragement by legalization.

NW News on 09/28/2019

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