Susie Cox, 75, spent her afternoon of Feb. 18 collecting signatures outside of the Washington County Courthouse from her Suburban, in hopes that recreational marijuana might be put on the ballot in November.
As Northwest Arkansas residents participated in early voting for the presidential primary, supporters of Cox’s effort signed her petition. She said she gathered 416 signatures during early voting.
Cox, an Arkansas for Cannabis Reform volunteer, began petitioning in 2014 to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas. Her efforts succeeded in 2016 when medical usage was legalized, and she has since petitioned for the legalization of recreational marijuana.
“I think it's a matter of educating people [on] the benefits of cannabis,” Cox said. “They have been told for so many years that it is an evil drug, when in fact, it's a natural medicine.”
Cox gathered nearly 8,000 resident’s signatures to get medical marijuana on the ballot.
In order to get the recreational marijuana issue on the ballot in Arkansas, petitioners must collect at least 89,151 valid signatures, or 10% of the number of people who voted in the 2018 Arkansas governor election, according to the state.
Cox said her organization has gathered nearly 14,000 signatures since July 2019. Though the state requires less, she said she hopes to reach 110,000 signatures by the end of June.
Arkansas patients spent more than $33 million on more than 5,000 pounds of medical marijuana in 2019, according to a report released by the state in January.
If the bill to legalize recreational marijuana passes, Cox said dispensaries will be able to grow a minimum of 200 marijuana plants. There will be provisions for one dispensary for every county and 30 for every congressional district.
Cox said if the issue is allowed on the ballot, the bill would be voted on in November, and those aged 21 and older would be permitted to purchase cannabis without a medical card thirty days after it’s passing.
Excess tax revenue made from recreational marijuana will go toward the UAMS, and toward Pre-K and after-school programs in the state, Cox said.
“Sixty percent of it goes to Pre-K and after-school programs they pick and then 40% goes to the UAMS teaching hospital in Little Rock,” Cox said. “They've had their funding drastically cut recently.”
Cox thinks cannabis has a long list of benefits, and she seeks to educate people on the plant, she said. She thinks the 18 conditions covered by medical marijuana are not inclusive enough.
“I think they can benefit because this is a natural plant and it’s medicinal for every condition you can imagine,” Cox said.
Kyle Campbell, the assistant manager at ReLeaf Center, said the dispensary keeps a variety of cannabis in stock in order to treat different conditions.
“We order as much as we possibly can to have as many options for the patients as we possibly can,” Campbell said. “Every different variety affects everyone differently.”
Campbell said ReLeaf has received positive feedback from its customers. He has seen the plant treat a wide range of conditions.
ReLeaf’s product has been used to relieve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy and cancer, Campbell said.
Robert Lochner, a sophomore and volunteer with Arkansas for Cannabis Reform, said students on campus have been eager to sign the petition.
“Reception has been really good,” Lochner said. “In one week of getting signatures, we've had over 60 people sign our petition.”
Lochner said he collects signatures in and around the Union. He hopes to educate students on the health, economic and financial benefits of the plant. He feels that it is unjust for recreational users to be punished.
“People are already using cannabis, which is a non-violent offense, it doesn't really affect anyone else,” Lochner said.
According to state laws, the maximum fine for a first offense of illegally possessing fewer than four grams of cannabis is $2,500 and potentially up to a year of jail time. A subsequent offense involving the same amount leads to a fine up to $10,000 and up to six years in jail.
Lochner said polls have shown Republicans, Democrats and Independents supporting the amendment.
Lochner said he thinks cannabis is much more gentle on the body than other pain relief methods, he said.
“It's a lot healthier for people to use than opiates, which we all know are one of the leading causes of death in this country,” Lochner said.
Cox said she is hopeful about the efforts to legalize recreational marijuana across the U.S.
“I think that it's just a matter of time, for every state and federal level, it'll be legal everywhere,” Cox said.