Lead grower Dave Wilson cares for marijuana plants in the "Flower Room" at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill. (Seth Perlman, Associated Press file)

Poll shows narrow split among voters over Arkansas medical marijuana Issue 6

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas voters were narrowly split over a proposal to legalize medical marijuana before the state Supreme Court disqualified a competing measure from next week’s ballot, according to a poll released Wednesday by the University of Arkansas.

Forty-nine percent of respondents who identified themselves as likely voters in the annual Arkansas Poll supported Issue 6, which would allow patients with certain medical conditions to buy marijuana from licensed dispensaries. Forty-seven percent opposed the measure, while four percent didn’t know or declined to say how they felt.

The poll was largely conducted before the State Supreme Court last week disqualified a competing medical marijuana ballot measure known as Issue 7, though supporters of that proposal have asked the court to reconsider. Arkansas voters narrowly rejected a similar medical marijuana proposal four years ago.

“It’s still something on which we’re sharply divided, but it’s clearly something people are taking seriously,” said Janine Parry, the poll director.

Issues & Answers Network, Inc. surveyed 800 Arkansas residents by phone between Oct. 18 and Oct. 27. The poll has an overall margin of error of 3.5 percentage points and 4.1 percentage points for very likely voters. Parry said only 20 of the surveys were conducted on Oct. 27, the day of the ruling.

The head of the group behind Issue 6 said he was encouraged by the numbers, since it came before the ruling and before the campaign had ramped up its statewide television ad campaign.

“I think our advertising will help us and the fact there’s only one medical marijuana issue people can vote on will help us as well,” said David Couch, head of Arkansans United for Medical Marijuana.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who once led the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and a coalition of groups that includes the state Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Farm Bureau have been campaigning against the measure. State Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, a spokesman for that coalition, said he was encouraged by the numbers, considering that opponents have been outspent by medical marijuana advocates.

“Certainly it could go either way on Nov. 8 and we’re hoping Arkansas voters continue to study this and vote to protect Arkansans,” he said.

The poll found less support for Issue 7, with 48 percent of very likely voters backing the measure and 45 percent opposed. Opposition to the measure grew when respondents were told the proposal would allow patients to grow their own marijuana if they don’t live near a dispensary. Forty-five percent backed the proposal and 51 percent opposed it when told about the grow-your-own provision.

The poll also showed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and GOP Sen. John Boozman with double-digit leads in the state. Fifty-one percent of very likely voters supported Trump, with 31 percent supporting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Eighteen percent didn’t know, refused to answer or backed another candidate.

Forty-seven percent of very likely voters backed Boozman and 29 percent backed Democratic challenger Conner Eldridge. Twenty-three percent didn’t know, refused to say or supported another candidate. Boozman’s approval rating, however, has dropped from 38 percent of respondents last year to 35 percent this year. Twenty-five percent disapproved of the GOP lawmaker’s performance, while 40 percent didn’t know or refused to say.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s approval rose from 57 percent last year to 60 percent. Hutchinson was first elected in 2014 and hasn’t said whether he’ll seek re-election in two year, though he’s widely expected to.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter: @ademillo