The hearings began Monday for a lawsuit filed against one Arkansas medical marijuana initiative, Issue 7, revealing that the sponsor of the other medical marijuana initiative, Issue 6, paid $30,000 to undermine his competitor.
The lawsuit drew scorn from the marijuana reform community because it was filed by a lifetime member of the NORML Legal Committee, an Arkansas attorney named Kara Benca. NORML has endorsed the Issue 7 Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act over the Issue 6 Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, noting that Issue 6 is “far more restrictive” and “does not permit personal cultivation”.
TalkBusiness reports that a petitioning company, National Ballot Access, was paid $600,000 for collecting over 130,000 signatures for Issue 6. The company’s owner, Heidi Gay, said Issue 6’s sponsor, David Couch, paid her $30,000 to investigate Issue 7’s signatures to challenge its ballot status.
Gay testifies that she found around 15,000 signatures on Issue 7’s petitions that should be invalidated by the Secretary of State’s office. Gay cites problems with the certification of some signature gatherers, problems with signers’ addresses, and issues concerning background checks of petitioners.
Under questioning from the defendant’s attorney, John Wesley Hall, Gay admitted that Couch had supplied her with the background checks. Melissa Fults, sponsor of Issue 7, testified that she had given those documents to a mediator with the understanding they would not end up with Couch. Fults and Couch have been in mediation to settle disputes from 2012, when they were working together on the last Arkansas medical marijuana initiative to make the ballot, which narrowly lost.
A representative of the Secretary of State’s office, A.J. Kelly, testified that Arkansas Code gives the benefit of the doubt to petitioners over errors that are merely clerical or technical in nature, absent any evidence of conspiracy or malice. Fults noted that most of her signature gatherers are volunteers and many are disabled patients who have “given up everything to do this”, adding that Couch’s funding and aid to Benca’s lawsuit undermining their volunteer efforts is “offensive”.
Having two initiatives on the ballot already jeopardizes the success either one could have had, since there is now the possibility of splitting the pro-medical marijuana vote and leaving neither with a majority to win. This electoral reality was reflected in major funders’ decision to re-allocate a million dollars that was earmarked for Arkansas to other states’ marijuana reform campaigns. Marijuana Policy Project head Rob Kampia told Marijuana Business Daily that once Fults’ initiative had made the ballot first, he implored Couch to abandon his initiative or neither would be funded. Couch ignored the ultimatum, thus actively harming medical marijuana’s electoral chances and campaign funding in Arkansas.
As the tide of cannabis liberty continues to wash over this nation, the power of our prohibitionist enemies to sway the public diminishes. The more insidious enemies we’ll face in the future are the selfish, short-sighted marijuana law reformers and industry lobbyists actively funding and working to subvert the efforts that aren’t their preferred manner of reform.