The Arkansas Supreme Court disqualified Issue 7 three days after the start of early voting, and nearly 400,000 people in the state have already voted. Pictured: Marijuana is grown at Surterra Therapeutics' 6,000-square-foot indoor facility, on the outskirts of Tallahassee, Fla., in June 2016. (Joe Rondone, Tallahassee Democrat via AP)

Arkansas court: Ruling stands on medical marijuana Issue 7, votes won’t be counted

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Supreme Court said Thursday that it won’t reconsider its decision last week to disqualify a medical marijuana proposal from the ballot after thousands of people had already voted.

In a 5-2 decision, the justices denied a petition to rehear the ruling, which blocked state officials from counting any votes cast for the proposal, known as Issue 7. The court last week ruled the campaign behind the measure did not follow state law regarding paid canvassers.

The court, which rarely grants requests to rehear cases, did not elaborate on its decision Thursday. The court’s ruling leaves a competing medical marijuana proposal as the only valid one on the ballot. That measure, Issue 6, has not been disqualified.

Arkansas voters narrowly rejected legalizing medical marijuana four years ago. The head of the campaign behind Issue 7 said the group would push for changing canvasser restrictions, which she says are unfair to smaller, grassroots campaigns.

“This is bigger than Issue 7,” said Melissa Fults, campaign director for Arkansans for Compassionate Care. “They could have done this to anybody.”

The timing of the court’s decision last week drew criticism from both supporters and opponents of the medical marijuana proposal. The court struck the measure three days after the start of early voting, and nearly 400,000 people in the state have already voted.

A separate lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday asks that election officials allow some voters who cast a ballot for Issue 7 but not Issue 6 before last week’s ruling be allowed to vote again. It also asks that election officials be required to post prominent notices that Issue 6 is the only valid medical marijuana proposal on the ballot.

Both medical marijuana proposals would allow patients with certain medical conditions to buy marijuana from licensed dispensaries, but they differ in their restrictions and regulations. Issue 7, for example, would have allowed patients who don’t live near a dispensary to grow their own marijuana.

The medical marijuana efforts have faced heavy opposition from Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and a coalition of the state’s biggest lobbying groups, including the state Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Farm Bureau. Hutchinson is a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

The coalition, Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana, reported this week it raised $130,800 and spent $148,059 in October. Informing Arkansas, which has been running TV ads statewide for Issue 6, reported raising $488,521 and spending $448,601 during the same month.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter: @ademillo