LITTLE ROCK (AP) - The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a proposed ballot measure that, if successful, would make the state the first in the South to legalize medical marijuana.
Justices rejected a challenge by a coalition of conservative groups who had asked the court to block the proposed initiated act from the November ballot or order the state to not count any votes cast on the issue.
The measure would allow patients with qualifying conditions to buy marijuana from nonprofit dispensaries with a doctor's recommendation. The proposal acknowledges that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but the Coalition to Protect Arkansas Values argued that it doesn't adequately explain that approved users could still face federal prosecution.
"We hold that it is an adequate and fair representation without misleading tendencies or partisan coloring," the court wrote. "Therefore, the act is proper for inclusion on the ballot at the general election on Nov. 6, 2012, and the petition is therefore denied."
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Arkansas will be the first Southern state to put the medical marijuana question to voters. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized it in some fashion. Massachusetts voters are also expected to vote on the issue this fall, while the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled a medical marijuana initiative can't appear on that state's ballot.
The conservative coalition argued that Arkansas' 384-word ballot question doesn't accurately describe other consequences of passing the 8,700-word law, including a provision that would allow minors to use medical marijuana with parental consent.
The group behind the measure, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, told the court it believes the measure is sufficiently fair to go before voters.
Under the proposal, qualifying health conditions would include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS and Alzheimer's disease. The proposal also would allow qualifying patients or a designated caregiver to grow marijuana if the patient lives more than 5 miles from a dispensary.
The conservative coalition's members include leaders of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, the Family Council Action Committee and the Families First Foundation.
Past efforts to put medical marijuana on the ballot in Arkansas have faltered, though voters in two cities in the state have approved referendums that encourage police to regard arrests for small amounts of marijuana as a low priority.
Supporters of the current proposal mounted an organized and well-funded campaign that surprised many political observers. Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group advocating for the measure, won ballot access after submitting far more than the required 62,500 signatures.
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