LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP) — Arkansas voters, by a narrow 51 percent majority, defeated a ballot measure on Election Day that would have made their state the first in the South to legalize medical marijuana.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that made it the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana. With 49 percent of the vote counted, 63 percent of voters were in favor of the measure.
The Arkansas initiative was defeated by a narrower than expected margin, according to Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council Action Committee of Arkansas. The closeness was due in part to the massive amount of money spent by pro-marijuana groups and in part to the short time opposition groups had to mobilize, he told Baptist Press.
“The things that I think mattered most in this election were, first of all, a really strong grassroots effort on the part of organizations around the state like ours, but also like the chiefs of police, the sheriffs association, the state chamber of commerce, the Arkansas Medical Society, the Arkansas Pharmacists Association and even the governor [Democrat Mike Beebe], the attorney general [Democrat Dustin McDaniel] and elected officials,” Cox said. “That combined effort made the difference. If we had not had all those elements, then the measure probably would have passed.”
Marijuana advocates spent at least $700,000 in the campaign, compared with less than $50,000 spent to oppose the initiative, Cox said. The disparity allowed proponents to purchase a large amount of advertising while opponents were forced to rely on media coverage of the issue to disseminate their message.
The opposition campaign began in force only 40 days prior to the election. Before that, opponents did not think the measure would garner enough signatures to appear on the ballot. When it did, they asked the state Supreme Court to remove it from the ballot and expected a victory, arguing that its title was not complete, did not reflect the scope and impact of the proposal and did not reflect clearly that the measure was against federal law. But the court ruled in September that the measure could appear on the ballot.
Some medical and law enforcement groups that came out against it were not able to take official votes among their organization until the last minute, Cox said. He speculated that another six to eight weeks of campaigning would have resulted in better organization among marijuana opponents.
The measure would have established “a system for the cultivation, acquisition and distribution of marijuana for qualifying patients through nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries.” Among the conditions that would have qualified a person to use medical marijuana were cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and a host of others — down to nausea and muscle spasms.
To qualify, Arkansas residents would have had to obtain a doctor’s note saying that marijuana would benefit them medically. Upon presenting such a note to the state’s Department of Health, they would have received a card allowing them either to buy marijuana from authorized dispensaries or grow it themselves if they lived more than five miles from a dispensary.
Cox said some proponents of the measure were using it as a backdoor way to legalize marijuana.
“They did not write it for people who are sick with cancer or dying of other really bad diseases,” he said. “They wrote this measure so otherwise healthy people can claim that they have muscle spasms or pain or nausea and get a note from a doctor. And then from there they’re able to grow their own marijuana at home and smoke as much as they want to.”
Southern Baptists played a key role in the defeat of medical marijuana, distributing flyers in their churches and mobilizing voters, according to Cox.
“Since Southern Baptists are the largest denomination in Arkansas, that was a huge factor in defeating this measure — the work done in the churches,” he said.
Going forward, medical marijuana advocates said they will first ask the state legislature to take up the issue. If that fails, they will attempt to get it on the ballot again in two years, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
In Massachusetts, patients with qualifying conditions will be able to obtain cards from the state allowing them to buy marijuana and possess a 60-day supply. The Department of Public Health will write rules to implement the law within four months and register up to 35 nonprofit distribution centers in 2013.
Heidi Heilman, president of the Massachusetts Prevention Society, told the Boston Globe that the initiative was a veiled step toward full legalization.
“We just opened our door to a billion dollar industry that can capitalize on anyone with pain and our young people,” she said.
Though some argue that the legalization of marijuana is inevitable, Cox said the state-by-state movement to do so could be stopped immediately by the federal government. Pro-family Americans should contact their senators, representatives and U.S. attorneys and ask them to enforce the federal laws against growing and smoking marijuana, he said.
David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).