Arkansas Hamlet Puts Pot's Priority to a Vote

Arkansas Hamlet Puts Pot's Priority to a Vote
Posted by CN Staff on October 10, 2006 at 11:51:46 PT
By Lianne Hart, Times Staff Writer
Source: Los Angeles Times 
Eureka Springs, Ark. — Here in the heart of the Bible Belt, where local laws often restrict the sale of liquor, grass-roots campaigns to decriminalize marijuana have gone nowhere. But to the surprise of pot enthusiasts across the state, residents in the small tourist town of Eureka Springs will vote next month on whether to make misdemeanor marijuana arrests the city's lowest law enforcement priority. Local leaders of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the group that collected the signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot, can hardly believe their day has come.
Volunteers have been circulating petitions for years, but "it's been like talking to a brick wall," said Glen Schwarz, NORML's Little Rock director. "The jails in Arkansas are full of pot smokers caught by people who think they've arrested Al Capone…. Maybe this will crack open the door."First-time offenders caught with 1 ounce or less of pot in Arkansas can get up to 1 year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. The Eureka Springs initiative seeks to make possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana akin to a minor traffic violation, punishable by community service or drug counseling. But no one is lighting up in celebration yet — at least not in public. Many locals are unhappy that Eureka Springs is in the pot vanguard while Arkansas is battling a major methamphetamine problem. And local police say the vote won't matter because state laws governing marijuana possession trump local ordinances. "A lot of people here don't see anything wrong with marijuana, but it's against the law to possess it in Arkansas. Until they change the state law, we're going to uphold it," said Sgt. Shelley Summers of the Eureka Springs Police Department. Keith Stroup, who founded NORML in 1970, said although police can "ignore the will of the voters, I'm not sure they will want to." If the initiative passes, he said, "a majority of residents will be saying that law enforcement resources should be spent on more serious crime. If the mayor and other city leaders don't understand that, the town can vote in people who do."Ryan Denham, a volunteer who is organizing the Eureka Springs campaign, said he would think about that later. Right now he's focusing on the November election, getting together mailers that will be sent to every voter in the town. "We barely have legal alcohol in Arkansas. But if anyplace here has a shot, it's Eureka," he said.  Snipped:Complete Article: Paul Armentano Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)Author:   Lianne Hart, Times Staff WriterPublished: October 10, 2006 Copyright: 2006 Los Angeles TimesContact: letters latimes.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives
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