Senate Bill 499 Will Arkansas Decriminalize Cannabis?
Updated: Sep 29
Will Arkansas Decriminalize Cannabis?
Arkansas cannabis reform took a major leap in 2016 when the
state legalized medicinal use with the Arkansas Medical
Marijuana Amendment (Issue 6).
Now, patients suffering from a long list of qualifying conditions have been
registered for medical marijuana, dispensaries built, and sales have been booming.
With all the success of the Arkansas medical marijuana program, marijuana
proponents are pushing for decriminalizing cannabis. The move to decriminalize
cannabis has been on the radar for The Natural State, and a new bill proposal
might make that possibility a reality.
The Proposed Arkansas Decriminalization Bill
Senate Bill 499 introduced by Senator Clarke Tucker (D) aims to reduce the
penalty for 1oz or less of cannabis to a maximum fine of $200, currently a Class A
misdemeanor in Arkansas.
Sen. Tucker has been quoted saying "I filed this bill because of the people whose
lives are permanently changed because they possessed a small amount of
marijuana. Whether it’s a veteran suffering from PTSD or a young person who
simply made that choice, we shouldn’t be using taxpayer dollars to prosecute and
incarcerate them. These people should also be able to lead full lives where they
don’t have to fear being turned down for jobs and housing because of this
blemish on their record. This is the right thing to do,"
A short bill not more than 300 words could change the landscape of how Arkansas
approaches cannabis use.
The Challenge for Cannabis
Without bipartisan support there isn’t much chance the bill will go anywhere
according to skeptics. The likelihood of getting that support looks doubtful
without significant collaboration between parties.
Arkansas has a long history of bill proposals that would legalize cannabis, all
falling short of the required votes to pass. Even if support is growing for
legalization, not all Arkansans are ready to sign their names on the dotted line.
As recent as December 2020 all four U.S Representatives from Arkansas voted
a bill that would have legalized cannabis federally.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) has traditionally been vocal and active in
his personal campaign against cannabis. As former director of the Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA) under President George W. Bush, a quick
Google search for “Bush administration raids California dispensaries” can provide
plenty of fun reading.
Alongside Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, MD Gov. Hutchinson
campaigned against the Arkansas Marijuana Amendment before voters decided
they were tired of the antiquated war on weed and saw the clear medicinal
If that doesn’t do his resume justice, his public opposition of legalizing
recreational cannabis should seal the deal.
The state’s political stance on legalizing recreational cannabis is pretty clear
between the reds and blues. And with friends like these, who needs enemies?
The road to decriminalization is an uphill battle in the middle of the night.
In the snow.
And it’s raining.
Political red tape aside, how do residents of Arkansas feel about
How Arkansas Residents Feel About Cannabis Decriminalization
With some numbers suggesting over half the state is in favor of legalizing
recreational cannabis, it starts to get a little less divided the deeper you get.
This week I talked to some Little Rock residents about legalizing and
decriminalizing cannabis in Arkansas.
Charles McCray, Little Rock: “I’m happy they want to decriminalize it, [but] if
they’re not going to do anything for people who have been incarcerated, that’s
tough.” “…and for those people who have been jailed, have a program for them
to work in the industry.”
William Shue, Little Rock: “I’d rather see it fully legalized, but you have to start
somewhere. We should tax it like other states do and use that money for our
communities. Our jails are overcrowded, and we don’t need more people in
prison for cannabis, law enforcement should be focused on violent crimes and
Melissa Fults of the Arkansas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform
of Marijuana Laws (NORML) believes decriminalization is a tough sell, saying in a
February 2021 interview:
“We are desperately trying to find a Republican,”
“I have a couple of them that are interested. I don’t know if they are going to
have the guts to do it.”
“With our ultra, ultra conservative legislature, it will probably end up having to be
a ballot initiative,”
“But we are talking to some legislators that are strongly considering a full
legalization [bill] or a decrim [decriminalization bill].”
Without bipartisan support, SB499 will likely fail to pass. It’s a foot in the door and
a step in the right direction, unfortunately it may come up a bit short.
There’s some suggestion from Fults and others that it might be more worthwhile
to focus on outright legalization rather than decriminalization.
Legalizing cannabis would mean regulation, public sales infrastructure, and critical
changes to the judicial system.
Though a considerable amount of Arkansas natives might show support for the
current medical system and recreational use, at the end of the day the
decriminalization movement needs sensible regulation and oversight to get any
kind of traction.
Unfortunately, with legalization comes a lot of paperwork, committees, and time.
While activists would prefer immediate action, often the road to passing and
activating a bill is sluggish. Until then, Arkansans will need to be a qualifying
patient with an Arkansas Marijuana Card to legally enjoy the benefits of cannabis.
Keep Your Cannabis Legal With an Arkansas Marijuana Card
With around 70,000 medical marijuana patients registered in the state as of
March 2021, it’s clear the state agenda isn’t criminalizing patients in need.
If you don’t have an Arkansas Medical Marijuana Card, the current penalty for
that amount of cannabis is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year of
incarceration and a $2,500 fine.
As a patient in the state, you can purchase up to 2.5oz every two weeks from any
of the open dispensaries. Having access to a wide variety of products, with the
assurance that your cannabis is being cultivated and produced with high safety
measures, all legally.
Patients have been enjoying the medicinal benefits of cannabis use since it was
legalized, and now is the best time to become a medical marijuana patient. The
advantages of becoming an Arkansas medical marijuana patient in 2021 are
apparent, and it’s easier than ever to apply for your card today.
The Future of Arkansas Cannabis
The conversation is wide open for meaningful change in how Arkansas views
cannabis, that much is clear. People want positive change, and they want change
that matters. Arkansas is The Natural State for a reason. We love our parks and
fishing, we want our cities clean and our air fresh. We want our crime and our
taxes low. We want our freedom, our liberty, and our cannabis.
Arkansas has an opportunity to make waves across the nation as an example of
honorable cannabis reform. Growing numbers of residents are deciding for
themselves that recreational cannabis use should be legalized.
Whether or not Senate Bill 499 will garner the support it needs to survive is
anyone’s best guess, but the conversation has been started and all parties need to
It’ll take a bit of hard work and determination to get meaningful legislation
passed, and Arkansans know all about those two things.
One thing is for certain, Arkansas cannabis is here to stay, and voters will need to
be diligent if they want impactful cannabis legislation to pass.