NORML Member Tries To Kick Medical Marijuana Off Arkansas Ballot

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Why would a member of NORML’s National Legal Committee file a lawsuit seeking to get a medical marijuana measure kicked off of Arkansas’s November ballot?

Thats’s the question many cannabis policy observers are asking after Kara Benca, a lifetime member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’s attorneys panel, sued on Friday to invalidate signatures for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act (AMCA).

Arkansas medical marijuana lawsuitThe measure is one of two separate medical cannabis initiatives that have qualified for the November ballot. It, unlike the competing Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (AMMA), would allow certified patients to grow medical cannabis at home. It also allows for a broader list of medical conditions that qualify patients for legal access to marijuana.

David Couch, the Little Rock attorney behind the more restrictive AMMA, admitted to Marijuana.com that he “provided information” to support Benca’s suit, but didn’t respond directly to questions about whether he merely complied with requests for help or was involved in initiating the case from the beginning.

“We are a small town,” he said. “I’ve worked with them and know them. I don’t think anyone contacted anyone.”

Paul Armentano, deputy director for NORML, said his organization has not “picked a side among these dueling initiatives.”

Asked whether Benca should be able to retain her status on the organization’s Legal Committee after attempting to block voters from deciding whether to allow medical marijuana homegrow, Armentano said he wasn’t previously familiar with the attorney, who is one of more than 600 who have paid dues in order to be listed on the organization’s site.

“I have raised this as a matter of concern to other senior staff, as well as those on the ground in Arkansas, and I would imagine the matter will be formally discussed ASAP some time next week,” he said.

Norm Kent, the vice-chair of NORML’s Board of Directors, told Marijuana.com that he would add the issue as a “discussion item to our agenda for this month’s Board meeting in Boston.”

It costs $5,000 to become a lifetime member of the NORML Legal Committee, a status which comes with several benefits including a search-engine-friendly listing that puts attorneys in front of potential clients.

NORML Legal Committee

“NLC members are listed on NORML’s popular webpage, where the victims of marijuana prohibition, their friends and family can turn to find competent and compassionate attorneys, especially those who specialize in criminal and drug defense work,” reads an appeal co-authored by Kent.

Public support for medical marijuana in Arkansas is broad, polling shows. In the only publicly available survey comparing the two measures, AMCA outperformed Couch’s AMMA by five percentage points.

Couch told Marijuana.com that he has internal polling showing the opposite result, but refused to share the data.

Benca’s suit, filed before the Arkansas Supreme Court, claims that the AMCA team didn’t comply with state petition collection and verification rules and, as a result, at least 15,000 of their signatures are invalid. If the court agrees with the claims, the measure would no longer have enough signatures to qualify.

Advocates have raised concerns about voter confusion that could arise from two similar but separate measures dealing with a single topic appearing on the same ballot. They are worried that if all medical cannabis supporters don’t end up voting for both measures and instead pick only the one they prefer, the votes could be split and a majority won’t be achieved for either initiative.

Couch told Marijuana.com that national marijuana policy reform advocates like Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and Graham Boyd of New Approach PAC tried to get him to drop his AMMA effort after AMCA qualified.

In 2012, Arkansas voters narrowly defeated a medical marijuana initiative that was run by roughly the same team behind this year’s AMCA effort. MPP provided funding to both efforts.

“Rob Kampia is to blame for this mess,” Couch said. “His arrogance cost us in 2012 and it might cost us this time. The Supreme Court will decide if [AMCA’s campaign] followed the rules. I did.”

Couch said that he informed Kampia of problems with AMCA’s signatures in April.

He blew me off and orchestrated [AMCA’s] early turn in and press conferences demanding I stand down,” he said. “If I stood down – it’s taken off ballot the people have no choice.”

Benca’s lawsuit is the second that has been filed against AMCA. A group of medical cannabis opponents filed a separate case last week asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to stop the state from counting or certifying the results of the measure after it is voted on in November. Advocates have asked the court to dismiss the case.

There is uncertainty about what would happen if both measures are approved by voters on Election Day.

Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Marijuana.com. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

18 Comments

  1. Benca should be removed from NORML’s National Legal Committee. This man acts more like someone from SAM than an advocate for Normal.

  2. Tom,
    Why is this headline “NORML Member”? She may be a member of many groups, but why imply that she is doing this for, or on behalf of NORML?

  3. Dan, just speculating here, but I think the reason is that it wouldn’t be at all unusual for a member of some other groups, say the Disney fan club, for instance, to file a lawsuit in opposition to a ballot initiative to protect some cannabis users in Arkansas. However, it is highly unusual for someone who has associated themselves with NORML, to have done such a thing. That seems newsworthy to me.

  4. I believe the AMCA’s ballot initiative is geared more for the patient’s needs, and less concerned with individuals making bank off of sick and dying patients. And that seams to be what it is all about. To sum it up, Its all about some individuals making money, instead of really being concerned with all patienit’s needs that potentially could be helped by the passing of medical cannibis laws, such as those who otherwise would not be able to afford it. That is why I believe the AMCA is best for ALL patients, as they have a self contained hardship clause to make sure no one in need is left behind or without.

  5. They are spending money to kill the one medical intitative that actually cares about patients instead of profits! That protect them from losing their jobs… Vote YES on 7!!! #arkansasforcompassionatecare #yeson7

    • I agree. I live in Arkansas and I think it is rigging the election. They waited until after early voting started and then decided it wasn’legal after early result showed it passing. Big business doesn’t want and AMCA. They control how many dispensaries are allowed, with a max. amount at 40. That is less than one per county. People in all the small towns will have no access.

  6. Newsworthy perhaps, but terribly misleading.
    People like Elizabeth here assume “they” are doing this.
    It ain’t “they” but that’s the impression this headline gives.
    It stinks. It may “sell newspapers” but it is promoting a lie!

  7. I’ll try:
    If the AMCA has discrepancies that disqualify it from the ballot, for any reason, it would be challenged in court and nullified Post-Vote. It does appear to be the better of the 2 proposals, which leads me to believe it would win, the other would lose, and neither would be instituted.
    As much as it sounds as though Benca is trying to Preserve cannabis rights in any way ~legally~ possible.

  8. Ahhhh….follow the money??? I’m betting that’s it, as usual. It always is especially in politics. And especially in Arkansawyer politics (think the crooked Clinton’s)…

  9. kathleen chippi on

    Both NORML and MPP/DPA/Soros have sold out patients years ago. Vote NO on both and save yourselves from 1,200 NEW pages of pot prohibitions (like Colorado). The longest war in the history of the US has long ago failed….continue to consume w/o permission from the government entities who created it.

    • Oliver Steinberg on

      Kathleen, your accusations are unfounded. NORML and the other groups have not “sold out.” They have worked thanklessly to win some small progress. If it’s not perfect–and I’m a strong critic of some of the compromises in certain states–that’s because there isn’t the force of organized, responsible, determined citizens to demand these reforms. Just too many people expecting that legalization is “inevitable” or will happen by magic or wishful thinking. Your suggestion that people continue to defy these unjust laws is all right as far as it goes but it doesn’t go very far at all. It is no use at all for those who DO get busted—and you know statistics prove that the burden of narcotics enforcement is targeted at the poor, especially those who are racial minorities. The victims of marijuana prohibition lose their health, lose their jobs, lose their children, lose their property, lose their liberty, and too often even lose their lives. I hope you don’t criticize the hard work done by the pro-reform organizations whom you denounce, unless you yourself have spent your own money, time, and energy really working to positively change the laws. It’s your duty as a citizen and your obligation as a human being who knows the laws are wrong. True reform needs people who understand that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Also, it’s too easy to exaggerate the influence of NORML, or of the much better-funded MPP and DPA, and then imagine that they are scapegoats to blame for the shortcomings of the first-step, early-stage experiments in legalization. To get better results, get to work fighting for them. If, like me, you’ve been combating prohibitionists for decades, you realize that even the smallest progress requires incredible effort and perseverance.

  10. It should also be noted that “The Natural State” has the highest rate of obesity according to StateOfObesity.org. Over 1/3 are not just overweight but OBESE.

    They also have the most restrictive laws against naturism. You cannot go topless, breastfeed in public, own a nudist resort, be naked on YOUR OWN PROPERTY, be naked in mixed company, or even ADVOCATE public nudity. Yes, not even ADVOCATE. Brazenly unconstitutional? Of course it is, and it’s been the law since 1957! Don’t believe me, go to unconstituionalarkansas.org.

    There Bible-thumpers are an embarrassment and no way follow the ACTUAL teachings of Christ.

    This is what we are up against.

    • Arkansas is #4 nationwide for opoid prescriptions, and, I believe, #6 for opoid over doses. Medical marijuana has proven, without prejudice, to all but eliminate overdoses.
      Can any one explain why our S. G. Is opposed to medical Marijuana? Or any this person wants it off the ballot?
      Just follow the $$$.

  11. People in Arkansas are *furious* about this already, and word is just now spreading about the Supreme Court decision.

    I am active in a number of groups local to this issue, and there has been much discussion of the competing Ballot Issues 6 and 7. I don’t know but one person who hasn’t opted to vote *for* Ballot Issue 7 and *against* 6 so that 7 would survive. (The one exception voted for both.) Early voting has been open for almost a week here already, how can they change the ballot now, after the issue was vetted and approved, even in this now blood red state? This doesn’t simply remove the question, it unfairly represents support for Ballot Issue 6 that may or may not have been reflected in an honest vote.

    Something is very wrong here, with hallmarks of corruption. I’m not faulting NORML as an organization, but they may want to rethink selling endorsements to all comers without vetting their history, as it seems they’ve afforded trust to a troll. I don’t have much use for Couch now, either, and am about to post this story in every venue I can.

    Backers are asking supporters to still vote yes on 7, and that’s what I’m currently inclined to do. After forty years as an advocate, and at one time a NORML volunteer, I never dreamed one day I’d vote against any legalization option. But, whereas I preferred 7 over 6, I probably would have voted for 6, under normal circumstances, if it was the only option. However, given Couch’s collusion in this deceit, I feel ethics now dictate I not vote for his poor, limited, profit-driven initiative.

    There are a lot of people feeling gut punched in Arkansas right now. And there a lot of people who need this, and had hope within reach in the form of 7, which is a good, non-profit initiative, but have just had it stolen, with NORML’s name on it. This is a sad day indeed.

    #Vote7
    #StandAgainstCorruption
    #NORMLNeedsToMakeAStand

  12. I agree with the “FOLLOW THE MONEY” and the “CORRUPTION OF MONOPOLIZING ON MEDICAL CANNABIS” something is not right, in fact it really is a downright embarrassment to allow Benca or any other attorney that is using NORML’s site to advertise as an attorney recommended by NORML marijuana arrests while being 2 faced and stabbing in the back the whole meaning of what NORML really represents. Also who really funded this signature audit? I highly doubt she did this pro-bono, who does she really support on either of the Issues? Why were they allowed to rule on this suit after early voting and not allow those voters to re-cast for Issue 7? Something really stinks about this whole Benca lawsuit, it’s as if she uses NORML only as a means to lure more clients. I have been reading many posts about how if NORML does not do something like cancelling her membership they will be losing many members that pay dues adding up to a lot more money than her $5,000 to be recognized as a NORML lifetime member, so she can have her name listed first on the site as an attorney that supports victims rights who have been arrested for possession. I wonder how much money and clients she’s gathered using NORML as a for profit advertising site, and if legalizing Cannabis will cut out the money and clients from potential marijuana arrests. $30,000 spent to hire an independent auditor for those signature’s, which were kicked out for clerical error’s. She literally punched holes and nit picked to show invalid signature’s. SMH HUGE black eye for NORML and Benca & Benca law firm. We are watching to see what and if anything will be done about this member ‘s conduct. So far all we get is how disappointing it is and reassuring other members that NORML was in no way involved in the lawsuit. There is a rally in LR today at noon, PLEASE ATTEND, we need every warm body we can get there to show the sick people DO have a voice and we are demanding some kind of justice here. We are literally suffering and dying for the medicine from a plant that God gave us as a gift to use safely to heal ourselves, but we are being punished if we touch it? We already feed the greed in Arkansas enough on other issues, I think Boozman’s nine (9) tax paid trips to Paris is a great example of that.

  13. Oliver Steinberg on

    I’ve been a public advocate of cannabis legalization (re-legalization) since 1968, and it’s always been my belief that if we are to prevail, we have to use the electoral system—-since lobbying and court remedies have never succeeded, in the decades since Ronald and Nancy Reagan re-ignited the drug war and seared the prohibitionist brand indelibly into the hides of the American political cattle who make up our elected legislators and appointed courts and bureaucrats.
    As far back as 1980, I began campaigning for office as a pro-cannabis advocate, and have encouraged others to do so as well. (I’ve also donated to cannabis plebiscites in other states, but we don’t have that option in Minnesota.)
    Repeatedly, it’s been shown that prohibitionists would sooner sacrifice the very core of democratic values and procedures, rather than allow the will of the people to overturn the tyranny of prohibition.
    In Colorado, vote-counting was halted on the first statewide medical marijuana ballot measure. Its supporters had to come back 2 years later. In Washington DC, Congress told the DC government it could not spend any money to count the results of the medical marijuana referendum there! In Michigan, where the 2008 medical referendum carried every single one of the state’s 82 counties, local officials and state courts have ignored the medical law, openly disdained and sabotaged it, or hamstrung it through adverse rulings. Similar governmental and law enforcement-sponsored obstruction and subversion has resulted in almost every state where medical or personal-use ballot measures have been approved by the people.
    In practical terms, petitioners and campaigners exercising long-recognized basic First Amendment rights have been harassed, arrested, heckled, and intimidated by law enforcement officers sworn to uphold the laws and Constitution.
    why is cannabis prohibition so valued by the powers-that-be that they would sooner abrogate democracy than allow the supposedly sovereign voters to exercise their right to alter or abolish it?
    I think I know the answer, but I will leave the question for other readers to ponder.

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