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Marijuana Initiative Makes the Ballot in Fayetteville

KFSM-TV News (Ft. Smith & Fayetteville, AR), Sept. 5, 2008

FAYETTEVILLE - Fayetteville voters will have the choice come November to vote on making adult marijuana possession the lowest police priority. Sensible Fayetteville pulled out more than enough signatures to make the november ballot with their initiative. Now, it's up to voters to decide whether or not the measure will pass.

Ryan Denham with Sensible Fayetteville said, "We needed 301 signatures to make the ballot."

Sensible Fayetteville turned in just over a thousand signatures august 29th. Reportedly, the petition has qualified with more than the necessary 3686 signatures to make it on the November ballot.

Denham describes how the initiative will read on the ballot, "It's going to say lowest law enforcement priority and it's going to talk about establishing adult marijuana policy for misdemeanor amounts for adults."

The group claims these arrests are clogging the court and jail systems-using up a lot of taxpayer dollars.

Denham said, "We're spending 30 million dollars a year in the state of Arkansas just arresting and prosecuting marijuana offenders for small time-small amounts."

Fayetteville police say misdemeanor amounts of marijuana are already considered a low priority and arrests usually result from involvement in other offenses.

Here's what Fayetteville residents had to say about the initiative.

One resident said, "I'm kind of biased on that, you know, I'm a criminal justice major, so I kind of stand behind the police."

Another resident said, "I support the idea and just making it easier on cops, so they can fill jails with people who have done worse crimes."

Even with the initiative on the ballot the group isn't done, yet.

Denham said, "...eleven other states house decriminalize marijuana through the legislator-those were not through petition initiatives, so we certainly like to look into doing a legislative action down the line."

Right now, Police say anything under an ounce is a Class A misdemeanor, which means mandatory arrest with a one year max jail time and possible thousand dollar fine. The same procedure applies to shoplifters-and other Class A misdemeanor offenses-they have to be brought to jail for fingerprinting. Police say they see many more shoplifter arrests than ounce or less marijuana arrests.

If arrested for a second offense of misdemeanor possession with a conviction on the first offense then it becomes a felony.

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