• Hammond Lewis

Senate Bill 499 Will Arkansas Decriminalize Cannabis?

Updated: Sep 29


Will Arkansas Decriminalize Cannabis?

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

against The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act,

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

benefits.


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

decriminalization?


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

serious cases.”


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

participate.


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.

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