LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas failed to become the first southern state to legalize medical marijuana this week, but the narrow loss didn't discourage the measure's supporters who said Wednesday they plan to tweak their proposal and try again.
"We'll try to get it through the General Assembly and if that doesn't work, we'll take it back to the people," said Chris Kell, campaign strategist for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group advocating for the medical marijuana measure.
Voters in Tuesday's election narrowly rejected the measure that would have allowed patients with qualifying conditions to buy marijuana from nonprofit dispensaries with a doctor's recommendation. More Arkansas voters cast ballots for the medical marijuana measure than they did for President Barack Obama, with more than 500,000 voters in favor of the marijuana issue and about 390,000 votes cast for Obama.
"I think this vote just shows that it's really not as controversial as everybody thought," Kell said.
The measure saw the strongest support in Arkansas' urban areas and in a handful of Mississippi Delta counties, while rural areas overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.
"If the campaign had been extended a little longer, I believe the margin by which it was defeated might have been greater," said Jerry Cox, one of the chief opponents of the measure.
Kell said when bringing the measure to the Capitol or the people next time, they might do away with a provision that would allow patients to grow marijuana if they live more than five miles from a dispensary.
"I really think the grow-your-own was the scariest aspect for most folks," he said Wednesday.
However, he said he didn't think that most people who lived more than five miles from a dispensary would have grown their own marijuana anyway.
"I go to the grocery store to buy cabbage. I don't grow it at my house even though I've got a garden," Kell said. "Just as a matter of convenience, I think most people, even outside of that five-mile range, if they had the ability to make it to a dispensary, I think they would have."
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who opposed the medical marijuana proposal, said he was surprised by the amount of support for the legalization measure. Beebe said his opposition was driven primarily by the estimated cost to the state and the conflict it would have created with federal law.
"There are some legitimate arguments in terms of health care compassion that I don't quarrel with at all," Beebe told reporters Wednesday.
Arkansas voters on Tuesday also approved a sales tax increase to pay for $1.8 billion in highway repairs throughout the state.
They rejected a proposal referred by the Legislature that would have allowed cities to create development districts backed by expected sales tax revenue.
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