LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Few surprises are expected on election day in solid Republican Arkansas, where Donald Trump’s former press secretary is highly favored in the race for governor and other GOP candidates are considered closed.
But a major exception is the campaign to make Arkansas the first state in the South to legalize recreational marijuana. A proposal to change the constitution of the state draws millions of dollars from legalization opponents and supporters, with ads crowding the airwaves.
President Joe Biden’s recent announcement that he excuse thousands of people for simple marijuana possession has spotlighted legalization efforts in Arkansas and four other states. voters in Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and south dakota are also taking action against recreational marijuana.
Biden’s step decriminalizing the drug could spur legalization in some of the most conservative parts of the country, experts say.
“The most powerful elected leader in the world has publicly stated that it was a mistake to criminalize people for using cannabis and I think that will go a long way with voters who may be on the fence,” said Mason Tvert, partner at VS Strategies, a cannabis policy and public affairs firm.
Biden’s announcement only pertains to people convicted under federal law. But he has called on governors to grant similar pardons to those convicted of state marijuana crimes, reflecting the vast majority of marijuana possession cases. The president also directed his health secretary and attorney general to see how marijuana is planned under federal law.
The measures come as opposition to legalization has softened across the country, with recreational marijuana legal in 19 states despite opposition at the federal level. Proponents say it shows that states are ahead of the federal government in this area.
“I think it’s an example of state-level leadership and citizens pushing the federal government in the right direction,” said Eddie Armstrong, a former state legislator who Responsible Growth Arkansas group campaigning for legalization.
In 2016, Arkansas became the first Bible Belt state to approve medical marijuanawhere voters approve a legalization measure. More than 91,000 people have cards legally buy marijuana from state-approved pharmacies, which opened in 2019. Patients have spent more than $200 million so far this year, the state says.
An ad from Responsible Growth Arkansas points to benefits such as the thousands of jobs that legalization would create. The main group opposing the measure is running an ad urging voters to “protect Arkansas from major marijuana.”
The proposal has met opposition from Republican government Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, who criticized the announcement of Biden’s pardon. Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, the Republican frontrunner to succeed Hutchinson, has said it will vote against the measure. Her Democratic rival, Chris Jones, said he supports it.
In neighboring Missouri, a proposed constitutional amendment would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older and clear records of previous arrests and convictions for nonviolent marijuana offenses, except for sale to minors or drink-driving.
Supporters said they don’t expect Biden’s clemency announcement for some federal marijuana violations to have a major impact on the Missouri measure, which could scrap several hundred thousand state marijuana violations.
“There is some danger of confusion, but I think most people understand the distinction between federal and state lawsuits,” said John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican and former sheriff, opposes the ballot measure but has not campaigned aggressively against it. He has no intention of following Biden’s pardon announcement.
Parson has pardoned “individuals who demonstrate lifestyle changes, commitment to rehabilitation, remorse and contribution to their communities — rather than as a blanket approach to undermine existing legislation,” Parson spokesman Kelli Jones said.
Likewise, North Dakota’s legalization campaign does not expect Biden’s pardon to be included in its posts. Mark Friese, treasurer of the New Approach Initiative He supported the vote legalization proposal and said he doubts Biden’s pardon will have a major impact in North Dakota or affect the legalization effort.
“The number of North Dakotans convicted by federal court is small,” said Friese, a prominent attorney and former police officer in North Dakota. “Small amounts of marijuana are not typically and historically prosecuted in North Dakota.”
Matt Schwiech, who leads the South Dakota voting initiative to legalize adult recreational marijuana possession, said the president’s pardon could boost the campaign among older Democrats. It also underscores the campaign’s message that convictions for pot ownership hurt people when applying for jobs or rent applications, and that enforcing pot ownership laws is a waste of time and resources for law enforcement, he said.
South Dakotans, including a significant number of Republicans, voted to legalize marijuana possession by 2020, but that law was passed struck down by the Supreme Court of the State partly because the proposal involved medical marijuana and hemp. This year, the recreational pot stands alone as it goes for voters.
It remains unclear whether Biden’s pardon move will inject partisan politics into an issue that supporters say crosses partisan boundaries. For example, in 2016, voters in Arkansas approved medical marijuana the same year they overwhelmingly supported Trump.
All states with recreational marijuana on the ballot next month, except Maryland, voted for Trump in the 2020 presidential election. And the issue is before voters as GOP candidates have stepped up their game. anti-crime rhetoric.
“From our perspective, the people of Arkansas didn’t vote for Biden initially, so we don’t expect it to really have any impact on anyone’s decision,” said Tyler Beaver, campaign manager for Safe and Secure Communitiesthe main group campaigning against the proposal.
Associated Press writers David A. Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri; Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and James MacPherson in Bismarck, North Dakota; contributed to this report.
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