Second group files to intervene in Arkansas recreational marijuana case

FILE - Marijuana plants for the adult recreational market are are seen in a greenhouse at Hepworth Farms in Milton, N.Y., Friday, July 15, 2022. Missouri voters are set to be the first in the nation to sign off on automatically forgiving past marijuana crimes if they approve a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational pot in November 2022. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

A second ballot question committee opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana has filed a request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to intervene in the case that will determine whether the amendment remains on the November ballot.

Safe and Secure Communities filed its motion Sunday, stating in court documents that the committee was created to "educate the public about the consequences of legalizing marijuana for personal use, and advocate for the defeat of an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution allowing the regulated sale of adult-use cannabis in the state."

The respondent-intervenor for the committee is Michael McCauley, who is listed as treasurer of the organization.

The largest donation received by Safe and Secure Communities was $250,000 from Ronald Cameron, CEO of Mountaire Corporation.

No decision had been made as of Tuesday regarding whether the state Supreme Court will grant the request to intervene. Last week it granted a request by the Save Arkansas from Epidemic committee, which stated it seeks protect the interests and rights of Arkansans who oppose legalizing recreational marijuana.

That request was filed by David Burnett in his capacity as chairman of Save Arkansas from Epidemic and AJ Kelly, a lawyer from Little Rock.

Officials for Responsible Growth Arkansas filed a response last week to the initial motion to intervene, saying it came too late in the expedited proceeding without explanation, poses prejudice to petitioners by interjecting new issues when time is running short, and is unnecessary because respondents adequately represent intervenors' interests.

Earlier this month the state Supreme Court granted a petition to allow the proposed constitutional amendment back on the November ballot until the state Supreme court decides how to proceed with the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners' decision to not approve its ballot title.

The court ordered the secretary of state to conditionally certify Responsible Growth Arkansas' proposed initiated amendment pending its decision in the case.

Officials for Responsible Growth Arkansas had filed a petition seeking a preliminary injunction because the Aug. 25 deadline for certification of initiated measures is pressing. It also asked the court to order John Thurston, Arkansas' secretary of state, to conditionally certify the petitioners' proposed initiated amendment pending the court's decision.

The proposed constitutional amendment would issue adult-use cannabis cultivation and dispensary licenses to businesses that already hold licenses under the state's medical marijuana program, followed by an additional 40 licenses chosen by a lottery.

Board of Election Commissioners member Bilenda Harris-Ritter, the Republican Party's designee, made the motion to deny the ballot title and popular name for the amendment partly because it would repeal the current THC limits without explaining if a new limit would be set. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana.

Responsible Growth counsel Steve Lancaster argued that the role of the Board of Election Commissioners is not to judge the amendment itself but to see if the ballot title has language that is misleading or omits information that could change a voter's mind.

Additional documents filed Monday by Save Arkansas from Epidemic stated that the complaint filed by Responsible Growth Arkansas should be dismissed for failure to state sufficient facts upon which relief can be granted.

"Pleading affirmatively, Respondent-Intervenors state that the proposed Amendment has many hidden elements to it, which make its Ballot Title material misleading, fraudulent, and illegal under Arkansas law," the documents state. "...Respondent-Intervenors ask the court to deny Petitioners any of the relief they seek; to dismiss the Complaint with prejudice; and for all other just and proper relief to which they may be entitled under the circumstances."

Burnett, Fairfield Bay's police chief, filed on Monday his affidavit of support for Save Arkansas from Epidemic.

"In Arkansas, it can take at least $5,000 to train a dog to help interdict illegal drugs, including the associated training for the dog's handler," it reads. "If marijuana is 'legalized' with the proposed constitutional amendment, all of the dogs used to interdict drugs in the State of Arkansas would be rendered useless, because they cannot be 'untrained' to recognize marijuana; consequently new drug dogs would have to be acquired, trained, and used to replace existing dogs. Assuming at least 100 dogs in use in various jurisdictions in the State of Arkansas the cost of replacements, including training, would be at least $500,000.00, if the proposed amendment to legalize recreational marijuana passes."

Kevin Sabet, an assistant adjunct professor at Yale University and author of "Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana" and "Smoke Screen, What the Marijuana Industry Doesn't Want You to Know," also filed an affidavit Monday in support of Save Arkansas from Epidemic.

"In 'recreational use' states, where marijuana has been 'legalized,' the THC potency of marijuana has skyrocketed in recent years, and its addictive properties exacerbate its potential harms, as marijuana users become dependent on it," he said in court documents. "Frequency of marijuana use, as well as higher THC potency, is associated with the most severe impacts on mental health, which is evidenced by psychosis, suicidality, reshaping of brain matter and addiction."

Sabet said prevalence of marijuana use coincides with increased demand of high-potency marijuana products.

"In states where marijuana is legal, retailers increasingly promote higher-potency marijuana in order to drive profits: higher-potency marijuana sells," he said.

Sabet said frequent marijuana users and users of high-potency marijuana are more likely than regular users to develop schizophrenia and psychosis.

"Given the problems associated with more potent THC marijuana ... the voting public should be made aware of the removal of the constitutional limit on the maximum dosage of 10 mg of THC from the Arkansas Constitution, which is considering the proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution," he said in court documents. "The proposed constitutional amendment prohibits further regulations of THC, and legal changes to the regulatory scheme of THC, thereby precluding the General Assembly, and Arkansas regulatory agencies, from making any adjustments to limit THC concentrations in the future; this is also one of the most significant facts contained in the proposed petition to make recreational use legal in the State of Arkansas as a 2022 ballot initiative."

The initiative limits the sale of cannabis to people 21 or older and prohibits advertising and packaging designed to appeal to children. It provides regulatory oversight by limiting the number of licensed businesses, and does not allow for homegrown cannabis.

It also limits the number of cannabis licenses to 20 cultivators and 120 dispensaries statewide, which includes existing medical marijuana licenses.