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The Friday Wire: Herbal questions and downtown development

Voter opinions on medical marijuana, a new medical college chief, development in downtown Fort Smith, and less harassment in the workplace are part of the April 11 Friday Wire for the Fort Smith region.

NOTES & ANALYSIS
Herbal medicine
Don’t be surprised when your fellow Arkansans vote in November to add the Natural State to a roster of 20 states that allow some form of marijuana use for medical purposes.

A recent Talk Business-Hendrix College poll of more than 1,000 likely Arkansas voters showed 45% oppose medical marijuana and 45% support the idea.

A ballot item likely to make the Arkansas ballot in November would provide Arkansans the ability to use medical marijuana for debilitating medical conditions with a doctor’s recommendation and to allow patients to purchase medical marijuana at a regulated not-for-profit dispensary.

Are we witnessing something similar to the polling for the 2012 medical marijuana question when a wide margin of Arkansans said they would oppose it? When the votes were tallied after that vote, the question was defeated by less than 3%, and it passed in conservative areas like Sebastian County.

Although polls are anonymous, it may be that poll respondents have a hard time admitting to themselves that they would support medical marijuana. While all drugs come with problems, the decades of brainwashing from government, religious and other societal leaders about the dangers of marijuana is hard to overcome. But when folks get in the poll booth, they may vote more in line with their conscience.

If nothing else, a favorable vote would likely boost the economy in Newton County.

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 ...

New college chief
Fort Smith attorney Kyle Parker, who has been named president and CEO of the planned Fort Smith-based Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, said Wednesday they “are moving quickly” on what will be a $58 million college that when fully operational will house 600 students.

Water park progress
The Fort Smith Planning Commission approved a conditional use Tuesday (April 8), removing the final road block in what has been a long and winding road in the city and Sebastian County's attempts to build the $10.9 million Ben Geren Aquatics Center.

Deed restrictions placed on Whirlpool site
The Whirlpool site in Fort Smith that has been the center of a pollution cleanup has now had deed restrictions put in place, limiting certain future activities at the site for not only Whirlpool, but any individual or company that may purchase the site.

NUMBERS ON THE WIRE
35%: The drop in harassment and discrimination charges filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 2012 to 2013. Industry professionals told The City Wire that the numbers for 2013 were not all that low, but instead equated the drop to an unusually high number of sex-related harassment and discrimination charges filed in 2012.

$3 million: The cost of the new Garrison Pointe West development that officially started construction this week. The project by Griffin Properties of Fort Smith will transform six buildings into a mixed-use property, with 12 luxury apartments, as well as five commercial units on the ground floor. Funding from the project comes from a mix of state and federal tax credits coupled with private capital.

$5 million: Appraisal of land donated by the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority to the planned Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. The initial estimate on the land was $4 million. The college is scheduled to open in the fall of 2017.

OUTSIDE THE WIRE
Alaska Dispatch to purchase Anchorage Daily News
In what amounts to a stunning media shakeup in the 49th state, the still-young online news organization Alaska Dispatch announced on Tuesday it has signed a deal with the nation’s second-largest newspaper chain to purchase the Anchorage Daily News, a 68-year-old publication with two Pulitzer Prizes.

Whole Foods takes over America?
Whole Foods' vision is a bold gambit when you consider the state of its competition. Supermarkets lost 10 points of share between 2001 and 2013 to the slew of nontraditional players that have gotten into the food game, according to Nielsen.

WORD ON THE WIRE
“If Democrats can squeeze an extra percentage point or two out of their base or Republicans do the same, it could swing the election if it remains this competitive. It is also interesting to note that the undecided margin in this race has shrunk considerably from six months ago.”
– Talk Business & Politics editor-in-chief Roby Brock, discussing new poll numbers in the race for Arkansas governor in a dead heat

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"It is very important that we prepare our campaign and supporters for an onslaught of negative advertising from the opposition and 3rd party groups in the final days of this campaign. I assure you they will leave no stone unturned in an attempt to win this race."
– Clint Reed, a partner at Little Rock-based Impact Management Group, explaining in a memo to Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, what to expect throughout the rest of his primary race against incumbent Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood

"There are incredibly talented, capable, high achieving – dare I say wealthy – people who don't have a four-year bachelor’s degree. It's not the end all and be all. Now do we need more Arkansans with four-year bachelor degrees? Sure we do. We're last, or second to last, depending (on different rankings). That's unacceptable. We've got to have more. But do we need an increasingly large population of specifically skilled individuals who have helped make our industrial and manufacturing (industry) efficient and productive? Absolutely. It's not either/or, which is the choice I think a lot of folks were laboring under for a long time."
– Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, in a speech to the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce

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