Marijuana reform recently suffered a temporary setback in Arkansas after the most recent legalization effort was stopped in its tracks by the corona outbreak. According to the executive director of Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, Melissa Fults, they failed to meet the number of signatures needed to qualify for the 2020 ballot. However, Fults said that they are working to get full legalization to the 2022 ballot, which is the most viable option given the state’s ultra-conservative legislature. While Democratic lawmakers such as Rep. Vivian Flowers expressed support for the group’s effort, she said that it would be better if a Republican becomes the main sponsor of the proposal since Republicans are currently in control of the state’s House of Representatives and Senate.
Fults mentioned that while Arkansas is a conservative state, its residents do support marijuana within reason and only want rules and regulations to be put in place. However, there is significant resistance to be overcome since on top of other problems, politicians including Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and state Senator Cecile Bledsoe support a campaign opposing recreational-use cannabis.
At present, only medical marijuana is allowed in the Natural State. But unlike in other states that have a medical marijuana program, home growing is not allowed under Arkansas laws and previous efforts which pushed for such a provision, like the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment failed to prosper. Given the state of current legalization efforts, it is highly unlikely that Arkansas will allow home cultivation within the next few years.
Overview of Arkansas Marijuana Laws
Arkansas has had a medical marijuana program since 2016 but it does not allow patients and their caregivers to cultivate marijuana. Meanwhile, recreational marijuana is completely illegal.
- Possession – Patients/caregivers may legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Any amount less than 4 ounces on the first offense will be treated as a Class A misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to a year in prison and a maximum fine of $2500. Subsequent offenses are considered a Class D felony punishable by up to 6 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. Penalties can go up to a Class A felony as the amount of marijuana increases.
- Sale – If the intent to deliver can be proven, possession of up to half an ounce is considered a Class A misdemeanor while half an ounce to less than 4 ounces is a Class D felony. Penalties can go up to a Class A felony as the amount of marijuana increases.
- Cultivation – Cultivation of marijuana is reserved only for licensed entities. Those caught cultivating illegally may be punished either for simple possession or with intent to deliver. This depends on various factors such as the amount of marijuana being grown.
History of Marijuana in Arkansas
As a conservative state, Arkansas currently has one of the harshest cannabis laws in the nation. Compared to some of its neighboring states, Arkansas marijuana laws barely budged since prohibition in 1923. But being directly besides Oklahoma and Missouri meant that Arkansas would have to change its antiquated marijuana policies sooner than some of its Southern neighbors. In fact, dispensaries in the state are reportedly losing business to its Oklahoma counterparts that are offering better prices.
During the 2000s when other states were already busy passing medical marijuana legislation, the tide of public opinion was barely beginning to turn in Arkansas. One of the first steps towards marijuana reform began in Eureka Springs where residents voted to make enforcement of weed laws the lowest police priority. Fayetteville also voted in favor of a similar initiative two years after. These reforms on the municipal level culminated in 2012 when the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act was put on the ballot. Issue 5 would have permitted non-profits to cultivate and sell medical marijuana, as well as patients who live over five miles from a licensed dispensary to home grow, but failed to make the vote.
The next push came in 2016 when the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment was put to the vote. Issue 6 was more restrictive since it did not allow home cultivation. However, it did allow patients to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana for any of the 12 qualifying conditions. Although it also allowed dispensaries to operate in the state, patients were not able to buy until 2019.
For now, Arkansas residents will have to wait until next year to see if a legalization initiative would bear fruition. In addition to the difficulties caused by the corona outbreak, marijuana advocates are also currently dealing with other obstacles such as changing legal predicaments. In particular, campaigners are currently engaged in a lawsuit with the state to lift restrictive signature collection requirements. This made it difficult for Arkansans for Cannabis Reform to gather the required number of signatures during the pandemic to get the legalization initiative to the ballot.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Arkansas
How do Arkansas marijuana laws compare with those in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Arkansas
No, adult-use cannabis is currently illegal in Arkansas and has not yet been decriminalized.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not allowed in Arkansas.
Yes, it is legal for patients and caregivers to have marijuana in Arkansas.
None. Home cultivation of medical cannabis is not allowed in Arkansas.
The most recent effort for the legalization of recreational marijuana hit a temporary roadblock for this year. The signature-gathering campaign for the Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative (2020) had to be halted due to the COVID pandemic which is why the sponsors, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, failed to get the initiative to the November ballot.
Residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home in Arkansas.
Only adult workers employed by licensed marijuana production entities may legally grow medical cannabis in Arkansas.
The passage of adult-use marijuana law in Arkansas is bound to hasten marijuana reform in the South. Based on the initial signature gathering of Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, it looks like residents are ready for legislation that allows home cultivation. However, there’s no assurance that such a provision will make it into the final legislation considering how conservative the state is. As of now, it is obvious that the state is bent on making a last stand but their efforts to thwart pro-weed campaigns only serve to delay legalization. Given this, a recreational marijuana legislation may be on the horizon for Arkansas within the next two years, but it is likely to be only as permissive as Oklahoma’s marijuana laws.