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The Friday Wire: Another marijuana push and a museum delay

A second shot at attempting to legalizing medical marijuana in Arkansas, a prediction on severe weather in the early Spring, and a planned union vote at Fort Smith-based O.K. Foods are part of the March 14 Friday Wire for the Fort Smith region.

NOTES & ANALYSIS
Legalizing the weed
Could the second toke be the one that loosens up the Arkansas body politic to say “Alright,” and give a thumbs up to legalizing medical marijuana?

Folks with Arkansans for Compassionate Care believe that their second push for ballot approval of an amendment to legalize medical marijuana

"I think with these changes, I think we're a shoe in. I really do. I thought we would win last time, but I really truly believe we will win and win by a large margin this time,” said Melissa Fults, campaign director for the group.

Irrespective of what one thinks about the issue, Fults’ optimism can’t be discounted. A similar 2012 ballot issue failed, but by a slim 51.44% to 48.56% margin. Possibly more troubling for those who believe marijuana should not be legalized in any way is that voters in the historically conservative belt that stretches from Fort Smith to Northwest Arkansas supported the 2012 measure. Combined, the proposal to allow medical marijuana was supported by 51.5% in Benton, Crawford, Sebastian and Washington counties. However, the measure failed in Benton County (47.4% for, 52.2% against) and Crawford County (47.7% for, 52.6% against).

Many polls since 2012 show a growing willingness of voters around the country to support an open or limited legalization of marijuana. If that proves true in Arkansas, well,   it may not be by a large margin, but The Natural State could have a second meaning after November 2014.

ICYMI
Following are a few stories posted this week on The City Wire that we hope you didn’t miss. But in case you missed it ...

U.S. Marshals Museum opening delayed to 2017
The U.S. Marshals Museum, a more than $50 million museum to be built along the banks of the Arkansas River, will still have a September groundbreaking, but the opening of the museum will be delayed one year to 2017.

The pitch from Altes and Pitsch
The May 20 primary is little more than seven weeks away and the area's first political debate of the 2014 political season took place Monday afternoon (March 10). Republicans Bobby Altes and Mat Pitsch, the only two candidates for the District 76 House seat, debated nearly an hour on topics ranging from teacher pay to tax cuts to the Private Option in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Fort Smith.

Falling foreclosures
Foreclosures continue to be a smaller part of the local housing markets of Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith metro area. Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac reports just 398 foreclosure filings across the entire state last month, down 50% from a year ago.

NUMBERS ON THE WIRE
9-0: The vote of the Fort Smith Planning Commission when deciding whether to approve a proposed Planned Zoning District at the site of the Fianna Hills Country Club. The PZD was necessary for Fort Smith-based FSM Redevelopment Partners to turn the aging country club into a four-story facility that will revitalize the property at a cost of about $20 million. The PZD will come up for a final vote before the Fort Smith Board of Directors in April.

$530 million: The Congressional Budget Office estimate of how much it would cost to fully implement House Resolution 2413, the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act of 2013. The legislation would fund research which could lead to warning times for tornadoes in excess of one hour. The bill has made its way out of committee and is awaiting a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

965: Number of reported tornadoes in Arkansas between 1980 and 2009, ranking the state 15th for the number of events, according to federal data.

OUTSIDE THE WIRE
The political push against Sen. Pryor
Americans for Prosperity is launching a major ad buy hitting Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) on Thursday, pushing the group’s advertising spending in the race to more than $1.4 million so far this year.

Drug testing Welfare recipients
From written tests designed to flag drug users to singling out people with recent drug convictions, state lawmakers across the country are pursuing novel strategies to deny welfare benefits to drug users without running afoul of a recent federal court ruling.

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Tracking bus and truck driver hours
Commercial trucks and buses that cross state lines would have to be equipped with electronic devices that record how many hours the vehicles are in operation, according to a government proposal Thursday aimed at preventing accidents by tired drivers.

WORD ON THE WIRE
"I'm for these guys 100% and I totally understand what they're doing. I don't see how the city could put any objection to a $20 million facility that's going to be outstanding in the state run by a golf company that's a national organization that doesn't run anything but prestige courses," he said. "I think it will be a benefit to the city and I know it will be a benefit to Fianna Hills. And it will supply 75 to 100 jobs. That sure won't hurt. We need those in the city."
— Fianna Hills resident Champ Hinton about a plan to renovate the Fianna Hills Country Club

"Right now, they have a one to one relationship. The employer holds all the chips. All the employee can do is quit. We don't feel that that is right. We feel they should reform. We want to help these workers to fix OK Foods and make it a more fair workplace — with better insurance, a better retirement package. We want a more fair future."
– Anthony Elmo, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Unioin (UFCW), explaining why the organization is still pursuing unionization of OK Foods' Fort Smith facility, along with two locations in Oklahoma

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