State business leaders join governor in opposing recreational marijuana

Arkansas business leaders joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday (Oct. 31) in urging voters to oppose Question 4, the general election ballot measure that would legalize adult cannabis use and the state would join 19 others the state with legal recreational use.

At a press conference at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Little Rock, industry representatives said legalizing recreational marijuana would compound labor recruitment and safety issues.

Supporters 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 from trucking, construction and agriculture joined Hutchinson in condemning the proposal.

“It’s a nightmare for the industry, for the people we have to work on the highways and the buildings in the state,” said Haskell Dickinson, former president 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 handle that and neither does anyone else.”

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

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

“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 obvious,” she added.

Newton cited statistics from Nevada and Washington that show a 162 percent and 190 percent increase in workers testing positive for marijuana in recent years since it was legalized in those states.

Zook also stressed that labor issues would be severely challenged and noted that legalization would increase workers’ compensation insurance for businesses. Arkansas has some of the lowest workers’ compensation rates in the nation and has had decades of stability on that front.

“This measure would compound this problem, making it nearly impossible to have a safe workplace,” Zook said. “The question we have to ask is: Are we really going to be better off as a country if we accept this?”

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

“With all due respect to the governor, fact: 3 of the top 5 producing states in the country have either adult-use cannabis or medical cannabis, or both,” he said. “As an old scare tactic from the Halloween sequel, today’s press conference repeats yesterday’s claims that the sky will fall. It didn’t fall in 2016, and it won’t fall after Arkansas voters pass No. 4.”

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

“Farm Bureau membership determines the policy that we will support or try to defeat,” he said. “Our leadership has decided that we must make a full commitment to see him defeated.”

The Farm Bureau bought radio nationwide to run ads in opposition to Issue 4.

The Ballot Commission, which supports Issue 4, Responsible Growth in Arkansas, has spent several million dollars advocating for its passage on television and radio. Another ballot committee that opposes Question 4, Safe and Secure Communities, has also spent millions of dollars trying to overturn the measure.

A mid-October Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College poll showed the race has tightened significantly in recent weeks. 50.5% supported Issue 4, while 43% opposed. The remaining 6.5% have not decided.

Governor Hutchinson closed the press conference by answering a reporter’s question about whether legalized marijuana would present 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 harmful substances that can harm our workforce. It’s that simple for me.”

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