Medical Marijuana Voted Down in Arkansas

As voters in two other states celebrate the complete legalization of recreational marijuana, Arkansas voters shut down a far more modest measure—that to legalize medicinal marijuana. According to, with 95 percent of precincts reporting, Issue #5 was defeated by just a few percentage points.

Yes on 5 Arkansas MarijuanaArkansas would have been the first southern state to legalize medical marijuana. Though it was not to be this year, Arkansas activists did amazing work even to get it on the ballot, and fell short by only a few percentage points, much closer than most polling predicted.

Arkansans for Compassionate Care gathered about 62,000 signatures and defended the measure in court before it was even put on the ballot. But their fight wasn’t enough.

The good news is that there was support, the margin of defeat was not that great. At last count, 51 percent voted against and 49 percent voted for, with only around 30,000 votes separating the two. This indicates with a more forceful campaign and perhaps some changes to the specifics, another future attempt could be successful.

Issue 5 would have freed up marijuana for use in the treatment of approved medical conditions. Study after study has found it useful in the treatment of pain, the lessening of drug side effects, and even in the treatment of serious degenerative diseases like glaucoma and even cancer.

Among those afflictions that would have qualified people for use of the plant as medicine were: cancer, AIDS, and Alzheimer’s, among others. Patients would have been able to receive their medicine after getting a recommendation from their doctor and visiting a dispensary. Had they lived more than 5 miles from a dispensary, they would have been allowed to grow their own.

Critics of the measure are celebrating their victory. “I can’t say enough about the fact that the governor came out against it, the attorney general, Congressman Tim Griffin, the Arkansas Medical Society, the Chamber of Commerce, the Chiefs of Police, the Sheriff’s Association; the list just goes on and on,” said Jerry Cox with the Arkansas Family Council.

What’s next? While the effort was defeated this year, we don’t expect it to die. Arkansans can regroup and take some real pride in coming close, with the establishment against them. In states where pro-cannabis initiatives passes, some significant law enforcement and political establishment groups were supportive, which was simply not the case here this time.

Both Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana entirely, setting the stage for other states to follow suit. We can expect for advocates of medical marijuana to regroup and strategize in coming months on how to make the next attempt a successful one. And with plenty of other states to model and a small margin of defeat this time around, another attempt could end in victory.

About David Matson