Voters may have the opportunity to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize alcohol sales in all 75 counties. The Arkansas secretary of state's office is currently verifying the validity of signatures presented for this initiative.
As I understand the current laws (I am not a lawyer), if enough valid signatures are placed on a petition, voters in each county can then decide to keep their county dry or go “wet.” Wet means legal to sell alcohol in restaurants, taverns, and liquor stores.
At the present time, only 40 counties are wet. In NW Arkansas, Benton County voters affirmed liquor sales in 2010. Prior to that, residents had to drive to a wet county or a bordering state to purchase packaged beer, wine and spirits.
Washington County has been wet for many years.
The number of signatures required to propose changing liquor laws at the county level is a difficult and cumbersome process. I think a state-wide proposal is more efficient and effective.
Voters may also have a chance to raise Arkansas’ minimum wage. Arkansas ranks in the lowest four states in the entire country. Only Georgia, Minnesota and Wyoming have lower minimum wages.
Federal minimum wage is $7.25 and therefore overrides the states’ minimums.
If the proposal is passed, minimum wage would increase from $6.25 to $7.50 on January 1, 2015, $8.00 on January 1, 2016, and finally to $8.50 January 1, 2017.
I strongly support raising the minimum wage. Working people cannot provide for themselves and their families with such low wages.
We will know for certain in a few weeks if a sufficient number of valid signatures were presented to place this measure on the ballot.
As for the medical marijuana initiative in Arkansas, it will be awhile despite what’s happening in other states. Arkansans will definitely not have a vote this year.
The group called Arkansans for Compassionate Care was unable to gather enough signatures to present the petition for access to medical marijuana to the secretary of state. I find this surprising. In the 2012 election, a similar measure did make it to the ballot and came close to passing (it lost by only 3% of the vote).
Several states have either passed or are considering laws to give access to marijuana for patients who qualify under certain criteria. Arkansas is not one of them. Medical marijuana is now legal in Colorado as well as marijuana for recreational use. And Washington state, which had already made medical marijuana legal, just approved the use of recreational marijuana.
In nearby Oklahoma, surveys show that most people support medical marijuana. A bill was introduced in the legislature last year but failed to move out of committee.
The opportunity for Arkansas voters to take a stand is at least two years away. And more signatures will be required to get it on the ballot.