State business leaders join the governor in fighting recreational marijuana

Arkansas business leaders joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday (October 31) in urging voters to oppose Issue 4, the general election voting measure that would legalize adult use of cannabis. At a news conference at the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Little Rock, industry officials said legalizing recreational marijuana would exacerbate problems for recruitment and worker safety.

Proponents of Issue 4 said the arguments are no different than when medical marijuana was proposed in 2016 and that Arkansas businesses have not suffered since its passage.

Leaders in the transportation, construction and agriculture industries joined Hutchinson in condemning the proposal.

“It’s a nightmare for the industry, for the people we have to work on the highways and buildings across the state,” said Haskell Dickinson, past chairman of the Associated General Contractors of Arkansas. “We’re going to have a challenge determining who can come to work … we don’t know how to deal with that, and nobody else knows either.”

“Problem 4 threatens the fair growth of business by enriching marijuana monopolies and crippling industries like trucking that have long served as the foundation of our state’s economy,” said Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association.

Citing a statewide shortage of nearly 78,000 truck drivers and up to 2,400 in Arkansas, Newton added that allowing recreational marijuana would make it even more difficult to recruit drivers for an industry that already has a limited pool of candidates has.

“The potential negative impact on our industry’s ability to recruit and retain the much-needed professional drivers to continue to provide the standard of living we all enjoy should be apparent,” she added.

Newton cited statistics from Nevada and Washington showing a 162% and 190% increase in workers who have tested positive for marijuana in those states in the last several years since legalization.

Zook also stressed that workers’ issues would be seriously challenged, noting that legalization would increase workers’ compensation insurance for companies. Arkansas has some of the lowest labor compensation rates in the nation and has seen decades of stability on this front.

“This measure would exacerbate this problem and make it almost impossible to have a secure job,” Zook said. “The question you have to ask yourself is: would we really be better off as a state if we passed?”

Robert McLarty, campaign manager for Issue 4, said the staff arguments presented at the press conference had been made before and had not been borne out in reality.

“With all due respect to the governor, fact: 3 of the top 5 producing states in the country have adult-use cannabis or medicinal cannabis, or both,” he said.

“Like an old Halloween sequel scare tactic, today’s press conference repeats yesterday’s claims that the sky is about to fall. It didn’t fall in 2016, and it won’t fall once Arkansas voters pass Issue 4,” McLarty added.

The Arkansas Farm Bureau also joined Hutchinson at the governor’s press conference. Stanley Hill, vice president of public affairs and government relations, said opposition to marijuana legalization is a long-standing Farm Bureau policy that emanated from thousands of members.

“Farm Bureau membership determines the policies we espouse or seek to defeat,” he said. “Our leadership has decided that we should be fully committed to defeating it.”

Farm Bureau made a nationwide radio buy to run ads against Issue 4.

The Voting Committee supporting Issue 4, Arkansas Responsible Growth, has spent millions of dollars campaigning for its passage on television and radio. Another voting committee opposed to Issue 4, Safe and Secure Communities, has also spent millions of dollars thwarting the measure.

A Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College poll in mid-October showed the race has intensified significantly in recent weeks. 50.5% supported Issue 4, while 43% opposed it. The remaining 6.5% were undecided.

Governor Hutchinson ended the press conference by answering a reporter’s question as to whether legalized marijuana would pose a different challenge than alcohol in the workplace.

“You can make some comparisons between the two. If you accept that argument, you have two choices,” the governor said. “Let’s reduce the number of pollutants that could affect our workforce. It’s that easy for me.”


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