2 dispensaries withdraw electoral promotion

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Two of Arkansas’ medical marijuana dispensaries are under investigation after they appeared to offer $10 in store credit to people who vote for No. 4 in Tuesday’s general election.

The investigation involves Suite 443 in Hot Springs and High Bank Cannabis Co. in Pine Bluff.

Number 4 would legalize recreational marijuana use in Arkansas for adults.

Arkansas’ liquor control division was alerted to the “advertisements” on Wednesday, said Scott Hardin, spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration. He said the advertisements were posted on the walls of dispensaries.

Hardin said ABC agents visited Suite 443 on Wednesday “to find out more.”

“The owners have been fully cooperative,” he said. “Ads have been removed.”

Hardin said he could not divulge details as an active investigation by ABC is ongoing.

The promotions that caused concern were at the bottom of a list of 14 “complaints” and “facts” about Issue 4.

“Vote for number 4, click the QR code below, tag us on Facebook by telling us you voted for number 4 and get $10 store credit!” it read. “BONUS if you post a photo of yourself with your vote sticker on our FB page, you will be entered into a draw to win a 55 inch TV!”

According to Arkansas Code Annotated § 7-1-104(4), “It is unlawful for any person to offer, accept, receive, or pay to anyone money, property, merchandise or goods or to solicit money, property, wares or merchandise for the purpose of influencing his vote during the conduct of any election in this State.”

Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin tweeted Wednesday about the dispensary’s promotions, saying “If it’s genuine, that’s a problem.”

He cited 18 U.S. Code § 597, which reads: “Anyone who makes or proposes to make an expense to any person, either to vote or abstain from voting, or to vote for or against a candidate; and solicits, accepts or receives such an expense in consideration of his vote or the refusal of his vote – shall be liable to a fine under this Title or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or both; and if the violation was intentional, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than two years, or both.”

After learning they may have broken the law, the dispensaries said in a prepared statement: “We support the right of the people to decide all matters on the ballot, including question 4. Our recent promotion to take out the voting and encouraging wider turnout at the polls has been misinterpreted by some to suggest that we should vote for number 4 in order to get a discount at our store.This was not the case.However, to avoid any misunderstanding additional, we are no longer offering the promotion. Whatever your position on number 4, vote!”

The ads also state, “For more information, please visit https://www.responsiblegrowtharkansas.com.”

“Responsible Growth Arkansas is advocating for passage of an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that will permit the possession, personal use, and consumption of cannabis by adults 21 and older, as well as the cultivation and sale of cannabis by licensed commercial facilities,” according to the website.

An unidentified person on the website responded to an email on Thursday asking for his involvement in promotions at the dispensary.

“It’s not associated with the campaign,” the person replied via email. “We learned this yesterday, it has no affiliation with us. To our knowledge they have removed it and stopped this ‘promotion’.”

Daniel J. Shults, director of the State Board of Election Commissioners, said they were also briefed.

“The SBEC learned through the Secretary [of State John] Thurston that a potential violation of Arkansas election law may have occurred regarding the material you have attached,” Shults said in an email. “The Secretary’s office and SBEC staff immediately informed the competent authorities of the material in question. I have no further information on this at this time.”

While he can’t speak to the specifics of an ongoing investigation, Hardin said he can highlight the rules regarding medical marijuana advertising.

“In order for a dispensary to offer or market any type of discount, it must be included in the company’s compassionate plan,” Hardin said in an email. “This plan details the specific discounts the dispensary offers to customers. For example, a dispensary could not decide today to offer a 15% discount to seniors unless this is clearly included in the compassionate plan. Compassion plans can only be changed annually when companies renew their permits.

Additionally, state-licensed dispensaries must remain in full compliance with state law, Hardin said.

“Failure to comply with any state law could result in a violation,” he said.

Pursuant to all investigations, ABC enforcement officers will submit an investigation report to ABC Director Doralee Chandler and she will determine whether any formal violations are issued and the penalties for those violations, Hardin said.

“Dispensaries can agree to violations and associated penalties (this can include fines, probation, etc.) or appeal violations to the ABC board,” he said. “If the owners disagree with the ABC board’s decision, the next option is litigation in Circuit Court.”

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