The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled late Thursday that voters in the state will have the opportunity to decide on a recreational marijuana proposal that will appear on this November’s ballot.
The decision ends a drawn-out dispute over the measure, which would legalize pot for adults aged 21 and older while also establishing a state-regulated marijuana market.
State officials, including Arkansas’ secretary of state, challenged the validity of the measure, which would be an amendment to the state’s constitution.
Activists submitted more than enough valid signatures for the proposal to qualify for the ballot, but the state Board of Election Commissioners rejected the measure, contending that the ballot title did not adequately explain the amendment to voters.
The group behind the proposal, Responsible Growth Arkansas, filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court, which made a preliminary ruling last month that the amendment should appear on the ballot, but held off on deciding whether the votes will actually count.
On Thursday, the court issued its final decision, ruling that the amendment is sufficient and rejecting the Board of Election Commissioners’ authority to deny the proposal in the first place.
As the Associated Press reported, the justices “rejected the board’s arguments for denying the measure” and “also struck down the 2019 law that empowered the board to certify ballot measures.”
According to local news station WREG, the majority opinion said that “the ballot title at issue is complete enough to convey an intelligible idea of the scope and import of the proposed amendment,” and that “Respondents and Intervenors have not met their burden of proving that the ballot title is insufficient.”
“The people will decide whether to approve the proposed amendment in November,” the opinion said.
Responsible Growth Arkansas celebrated the decision.
“We’re extremely grateful to the Supreme Court that they agreed with us and felt like it was a complete validation of everything we’ve done,” said the group’s attorney, Steve Lancaster, as quoted by the Associated Press. “We’re excited and moving on to November.”
The majority also said that the Board of Election Commissioners “has no discretion to determine whether to certify a ballot title,” according to WREG, and that “the Board had no authority to decline to certify the ballot title to the Secretary of State, and its action is without legal effect.”
“I am confident that Arkansans can read this ballot title and understand that a vote for the initiative is a vote in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana and that their decision could have a wide-ranging impact on current medical-marijuana laws and regulations and children. It is for the people—not this court—to exercise the right to amend the constitution, and our court must continue to preserve this first power of the people of Arkansas by not supplanting their decisions with ours,” wrote Justice Rhonda Wood in a concurring opinion, as quoted by WREG.
Another justice, Shawn Womack, “concurred in part with the majority’s opinion but also dissented,” according to WREG, saying that the “ballot title fails to sufficiently advise voters of the magnitude of the change and gives the marijuana industry greater leeway to operate with limited oversight in these areas.”
But Womack also said he’s “confident that Arkansans can read this ballot title and understand that a vote for the initiative is a vote in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana and that their decision could have a wide-ranging impact on current medical-marijuana laws and regulations and children.”
“It is for the people—not this court—to exercise the right to amend the constitution, and our court must continue to preserve this first power of the people of Arkansas by not supplanting their decisions with ours,” Womack said, as quoted by WREG.
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