Group aims to put marijuana on ballot

July 15, 2004

Gary Lookadoo, Benton Country Daily Record

FAYETTEVILLE — It was the right decision to continue the drive for approval of medical marijuana for people in pain, Denele Campbell said.

Campbell is executive director of the Alliance for Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas, the campaign committee that has been working to get a medicalmarijuana proposal on Arkansas ballots this year. The group will continue the effort, even after losing the participation of one of its coalition partners, Campbell said Monday. 'When we filed this petition last fall, Marijuana Policy Projects’ financial commitment to this campaign provided quite a boost to our prospects. When we first learned Friday of MPP’s decision to remove itself from the campaign, our initial response was that we would not be able to continue. Since then, however, we have received commitments of volunteer help and financial contributions. We believe we have a good chance of obtaining the additional signatures that will be necessary to qualify this initiative. We’re going to take the ball and run with it and see how far we get,' Campbell said Monday.

The Marijuana Policy Project and philanthropist Peter B. Lewis provided more than $336,000 in support of the Arkansas initiative effort, and MPP expected to need significantly more money for an expensive TV ad campaign, Campbell said.

But faced with the escalating costs of air time, MPP had to reassess its priorities, Campbell said.

Arkansas was the least advanced of the five state campaigns assisted by MPP, with about 70,000 names turned in on the petitions, she said.

The Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office has up to 30 days to finish counting the signatures. From the date it finishes counting, the Alliance will have 30 days to gather more names if needed, Campbell said.

As in all petition drives, some of the signatures turned in will likely be invalidated, so the group still faces the challenge of getting the valid petition signatures it needs, Campbell said. 'We’re going to do everything we can to gather sufficient signatures.... We’ve been working on this for five years and plan to keep working until we have provided protection for Arkansas patients and their loved ones. Our supporters will be working statewide asking friends, co-workers and neighbors to sign these petitions. We’re asking for donations so that we can also hire professional canvassers to assist us. Folks can contact us by phone at (479) 839-2475 or visit our Web site at www. ardpark. org,' she said.

Last weekend, trying to decide whether to continue, the organization got many calls from patients and families across the state urging the group to go on. Concern about the patients is what made the decision to continue, she said. 'It’s about the patients. We were thrilled when we found out we were going to have this support from a big national organization that had the kind of funding that could help us win,' Campbell said. 'But after we found out they were leaving, we really had to think about, what was our priority? Was our priority to have something easy, or was our priority to try and help sick and dying people?'

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