Groups push to stop recreational pot proposals early in Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A coalition of politicians, doctors, faith leaders and lawmen launched a campaign to flood the arena with information hoping to keep signature drives for recreational marijuana in Arkansas from reaching the November ballot.

“Marijuana’s not going to be good for Arkansas for health reasons,” said Dr. Greg Bledsoe, the state surgeon general following his mother, State Senator Cecile Bledsoe (R – Rogers) at the “Just Don’t Sign” news conference at the state Capitol.

“It’s irresponsible and very, very poor public policy,” Sen. Bledsoe said.

The mother-son team led a panel of opponents to the podium as proponents looked on from the gallery. Those groups are already gathering signatures.

“We need to start encouraging people before that not to sign because this is a gateway drug and we need to get out the information,” Sen. Bledsoe said as she looked directly at the group of marijuana advocates.

State Drug Chief Kirk Lane and Dr. Bledsoe followed with a list of what they say are new stats, gleaned as more states legalize the drug. They pointed to higher car crash rates, increases in schizophrenia, and permanent cognitive loss for young people.

“It is clear the marijuana of our generation is not what we’re currently experiencing,” said Lane, referring to the higher THC levels found in medical-grade marijuana, compared to the pot older generations used in the past.

“You would think they would get some new talking points,” said Melissa Fults, the executive director of Arkansans for Cannabis Reform. “They don’t. It’s the same thing they said with medical marijuana.”

Fults said her group has about 10,000 signatures of the 89,151 needed by July 3 to put the question before voters. She predicts collection season will pick up with prettier weather, and she rebutted arguments after scribbling notes during the news conference, including the concerns raised about legal weed leading to underage use.

“We don’t want the kids to get it, so we want it legal,” she said. “We want it in a controlled atmosphere where the money goes to the state.”

The news conference came on the same day the Centers for Disease Control released final life expectancy numbers for 2018, that showed Americans are living longer. The rate went up for the first time in four years, and a reduction in prescription opioid overdoses is a factor. But, Lane cautioned against celebrating and offered a warning about what he saw as cannabis concerns.

“Arkansas has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the nation,” he said, referring to overdose rates that increased in Arkansas, counter to the national trend. “That’s why recreational marijuana, adding that fuel to an already burning fire, is dangerous.”

Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson did not attend the news conference, but organizers provided footage of the former head of the DEA speaking to a group in opposition to recreational marijuana in Arkansas.

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