LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Less than a decade ago, Arkansas residents couldn't play video poker, take part in a church raffle or make marks on a bingo card for their favorite charity. In another sign of the state's cultural shift, voters Tuesday are considering whether to let certain medical patients buy marijuana to ease their symptoms.
In 2005, the Legislature passed a law that allowed voters in Hot Springs and West Memphis to legalize electronic games of skill at racetracks. Arkansas voters in 2006 lifted a constitutional prohibition against charitable bingo and raffles, and two years later authorized a state lottery dedicated to college scholarships.
Now Arkansas could become the first state in the South to legalize medical marijuana.
Patients with cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS and Alzheimer's disease could obtain marijuana from nonprofit dispensaries with a doctor's recommendation. They also could grow their own if they live far from a dispensary.
Opponents of the proposal failed in their attempt to get the state Supreme Court to remove the issue from the ballot. They then turned to advertising.
After complaints from television personality and patient-activist Montel Williams that an ad was racist, Jerry Cox of the conservative Arkansas Family Council said Williams had missed the point.
"We're sending a message that this harmful act is going to affect every family in this state if it passes," Cox said last month.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some fashion.
Also on Tuesday's ballot are two Legislature-backed proposals that would fund highway repairs with a temporary half-cent sales tax increase and create a new funding mechanism for local development projects.
Legislators last year authorized a $1.8 billion highway improvement plan if voters approve a half-cent sales tax increase that will expire when the bonds are paid off. As part of the deal, an existing 1-cent fuel tax would be dedicated to highways. Supporters say the building plan will create 40,000 jobs and build four-lane highways to link much of the state.
The temporary half-cent tax increase would not apply to sales of groceries, gasoline or medicine.
Under the bond proposal, cities and counties would be able to create development districts, with local approval, and dedicate sales tax revenue to pay off the notes. The Arkansas Municipal League and Gov. Mike Beebe have backed the plan.