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Joint effort: An ASU student shares his story of getting medical marijuana on the Arkansas ballot

Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 10:10

The legalization of marijuana has made it onto the Arkansas ballot after years of heated debate.

Now known by the signs reading “Vote Yes on Issue 5,” the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act has been placed on state ballots for the 2012 Election. The Act is a comprehensive blueprint for establishing and regulating a medical marijuana program in Arkansas, run by the Arkansas Department of Health.

While several Arkansas citizens are still torn on the issue, it wouldn’t have made it on the ballot without the advocacy of several men and women across the state.

One strong advocate of medical marijuana, Jacob Holloway of Jonesboro, a Green Party candidate for the 1st Congressional District, is a graduate student at ASU and has been wanting for the legalization of the drug for years.

“It really all started when I was a senator and undergraduate at the University of Arkansas,” Holloway said. “I met Ryan Denham when I was approached and asked to sponsor a piece of legislation that would lower penalties for marijuana on campus and make them equal with alcohol violations.”

At the time in 2008, Holloway said he hadn’t really given much thought to drug policy reform.

“Denham was just coming off of a win in making marijuana a lower priority in Eureka Springs and wanted to do the same thing in the city of Fayetteville,” Holloway said. “He wanted to make misdemeanor amounts of marijuana at the lowest priority.”

Holloway said this was the first sight into what would become the Compassionate Care Campaign.

The Compassionate Care Campaign is a group of Arkansans dedicated to getting medical marijuana legalized in Arkansas, as it is in 17 other states and the District of Columbia.

Holloway has been on the forefront of this campaign.

“When Fayetteville passed their lower priority resolution in 2008, it kind of woke everyone up,” Holloway said. “When Denham came off of that win, he said ‘I want to do a state campaign.’”

After his experience with drug policy reform in Fayetteville, Holloway went on to intern in Washington D.C. with the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).  

“At the time, I was talking to people in D.C. and said we were going to fight for medical marijuana in Arkansas,” Holloway said. “Even then people were talking and knew that something like this was going to happen.”

By 2010, Holloway said that everyone within the drug policy reform circle knew that Arkansas was going to do medical marijuana.

“There was still a lot of hesitation in the group, because no one really thought Arkansas could even get it on the ballot,” Holloway said.

Holloway attributed this anxiety to the attempt and failure to get medical marijuana on the ballot in 2000.

“It was actually a pretty big fiasco,” Holloway said. “The Drug Policy Alliance was a group that had been formed previously, and they got a lot of volunteers, but ended up losing all of their funding.”

Although this attempt happened several years before Holloway joined the movement for medical marijuana in Arkansas, he said it still affected him and his current efforts.

“A lot of the national groups were kind of weary after that happened,” Holloway said. “They didn’t want to put anymore money into Arkansas. They were listening, but they weren’t committed.”

When Arizona passed the Medical Marijuana Act in 2010, Holloway said the group soon after went “all in.”

“We got with a group of law students at the U of A, first year students, and put a draft together,” Holloway said.

At this point, Holloway and his group had two years left to get the law drafted and get it by the secretary of state and attorney general’s office. Then they had to collect more than 65,000 ballot signatures, while also raising $100,000.

“By the end of 2010, we still weren’t collecting any signatures until the summer of 2011,” Holloway said. “At that point in time, a lot of people thought it wouldn’t happen. A statewide ballot initiative, that wasn’t even fully funded, was shocking; most of them don’t even make it.”

Holloway said for most of the campaign, there wasn’t any money except for personal donations.

Going into 2012, no one really thought this would even make the ballot, Holloway said.

“That’s when we had a few successes where a couple of national donors came in and were really invested in seeing this make the ballot in Arkansas.”

Holloway said the group didn’t have even half of the signatures they needed by March, when the deadline was in June.

“That’s when the Marijuana Policy Project out of Washington D.C. finally said they wanted to do a southern state,” Holloway said. “We had been lobbying them for a long time because really they’re the only national group that you can get major funding from.”

At that point, Holloway’s group told the Marijuana Policy Project they would match them $100,000 if the national group would support them.

“Somehow in June we really thought we were going to be way behind,” Holloway said. “We were low, but we made it. We were 20,000 signatures behind, but turned in over 140,000 signatures by the end of the campaign.”

Holloway said during the campaign most everyone working with the group were volunteers from other ballot initiatives.

“They were genuinely interested in seeing this ballot initiative pass,” Holloway said.

Once the initiative was passed and on the ballot, Holloway said he was ecstatic. However, there have been several opposition groups since then who are against the measure.

Groups who openly oppose the initiative include the Family Council, the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association, the Arkansas Pharmacists Association and the Arkansas Medical Association.

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