Arkansas: Court Upholds Medical Marijuana Proposal

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a proposed ballot measure that, if successful, would make the state the first in the South to legalize medical marijuana.

The Associated Press
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a proposed ballot measure that, if successful, would make the state the first in the South to legalize medical marijuana.

Justices rejected a challenge by a coalition of conservative groups who had asked the court to block the proposed initiated act from the November ballot or order the state to not count any votes cast on the issue.

The measure would allow patients with qualifying conditions to buy marijuana from nonprofit dispensaries with a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal acknowledges that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values argued that it doesn’t adequately explain that approved users could still face federal prosecution.

“We hold that it is an adequate and fair representation without misleading tendencies or partisan coloring,” the court wrote. “Therefore, the act is proper for inclusion on the ballot at the general election on Nov. 6, 2012, and the petition is therefore denied.”

Arkansas will be the first Southern state to put the medical marijuana question to voters. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized it in some fashion. Massachusetts voters are also expected to vote on the issue this fall, while the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled a medical marijuana initiative can’t appear on that state’s ballot.

The conservative coalition argued that Arkansas’ 384-word ballot question doesn’t accurately describe other consequences of passing the 8,700-word law, including a provision that would allow minors to use medical marijuana with parental consent.

Justices disagreed and said the proposed law is fairly summarized in the question that will appear on the ballot.

“Here, after reviewing the ballot title of 384 words, we conclude that the title informs the voters in an intelligible, honest and impartial manner of the substantive matter of the act,” the ruling said.

The group behind the measure, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, told the court it believes the measure is sufficiently fair to go before voters. David Couch, an attorney for the group, said he was pleased with the ruling and said it allowed them to shift gears to building support for the measure’s passage.

“Now that we’ve passed muster with the Supreme Court we’ll begin our campaign to show the people of the state of Arkansas that this is truly a compassionate measure,” Couch said.

The coalition also shifted into campaign mode, preparing to mobilize church leaders and other conservatives to oppose the measure.

“This is about the first incremental step to legalizing marijuana for recreational use,” said coalition member Larry Page, the director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council.

Under the proposal, qualifying health conditions would include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease. The proposal also would allow qualifying patients or a designated caregiver to grow marijuana if the patient lives more than 5 miles from a dispensary.

The conservative coalition’s members include leaders of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, the Family Council Action Committee and the Families First Foundation.

Past efforts to put medical marijuana on the ballot in Arkansas have faltered, though voters in two cities in the state have approved referendums that encourage police to regard arrests for small amounts of marijuana as a low priority.

Supporters of the current proposal mounted an organized and well-funded campaign that surprised many political observers. Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group advocating for the measure, won ballot access after submitting far more than the required 62,500 signatures.

Medical marijuana has never come before voters in the South partly because of the difficulty of getting such initiatives on the ballot. And conservative legislators throughout the region have not backed the efforts. The Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project has provided most of the funding for the campaign in Arkansas, contributing $251,000 to the effort.

Officials with the group said they stepped in after polling showed strong support for the measure in Arkansas. Group leaders also cite a “symbolic” value in passing a medical marijuana law in the South.

“I think it’s a sign that marijuana policy reform is an idea that is coming of age now across the nation, rather than just in the states where we’ve seen it so far,” said Morgan Fox, the group’s communications director. “It’s really an important moment.”

Gov. Mike Beebe, who is opposed to the proposal, told reporters on Thursday he doesn’t believe the state’s voters would legalize medical marijuana. Beebe said he’s asked for an estimate of how much it will cost the state to regulate the dispensaries if the measure passes.

“If I understand what I think I understand about it, if it passes, it’s going to require a whole of administration from the health department,” Beebe said. “I don’t know where we’re going to get it from.”

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Kentucky: Civil War Project Crosses Age-Old Rivalry Lines

By Wendy Mitchell, the Ledger-Independent

BROOKSVILLE | Asking for unification of efforts for the benefit of Bracken County tourism as a whole, fiscal court members were solicited for funds to bring more attention to the county’s Civil War history.

During the regular meeting of Bracken County Fiscal Court on Wednesday, Bill Baker asked magistrates for tourism funds to help post high tech signs, not only in Augusta, but eventually at multiple locations related to the Civil War across Bracken County.  The project’s objective is to help push state tourism officials to include Bracken County on its map of American Civil War sites.

Baker has been part of a research group which has helped bring the Battle of Augusta 150th Commemoration to life over the last two years.

Opening ceremonies for the commemoration begin at 6:30 p.m., today, Sept. 27.

The Battle of Augusta was the tail of the whip, including at least four times that Brooksville was “overrun” before Sept. 27, 1862, Baker said.

“On Sept. 8, 1862, there was a battle in Brooksville and we know at least one person lost their life in Brooksville as a result of the battle,” Baker said.

Battles were also documented in Milford and Foster, he said.

Fear of what Confederate John Hunt Morgan may do caused officials to gather government documents and ship them for safe keeping in Ohio, “until after the the battle at Perryville,” Baker said.

Those documents, along with others and diaries uncovered related to the time, have helped paint a different picture of what happened in the area when Union and Confederate ideals clashed, he said.

Access to part of the project is posted at and .org, Baker said.

Magistrates agreed to place $2,000 in the tourism office hands, earmarked for the project.

Bracken County Fiscal Court members also approved inclusion of special district tax rates on the Bracken County tax bills to be mailed out for 2012 including: real estate, .4010 cents per $100 assessed value; health department .0480 cents; ambulance .0770 cents; extension service .0670 cents; soil conservation .0200 cents; public library .0920 cents; Augusta School .6160 cents; Bracken County School .3650 cents; and tangible personal.


Mississippi: Integrating Ole Miss: A Transformative, Deadly Riot

By Debbie Elliott, National Public Radio

Fifty years ago — Oct. 1, 1962 — the first black student was admitted to the University of Mississippi, a bastion of the Old South.

Meredith, center with briefcase, is escorted to the University of Mississippi campus by U.S. marshals on Oct. 1, 1962.

The town of Oxford erupted. It took some 30,000 U.S. troops, federal marshals and national guardsmen to get James Meredith to class after a violent campus uprising. Two people were killed and more than 300 injured. Some historians say the integration of Ole Miss was the last battle of the Civil War.

It was a high-stakes showdown between President Kennedy and Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett.

“I’m a Mississippi segregationist and I am proud of it,” the governor declared.

Publicly, Barnett promised to block Meredith from the campus in Oxford, despite a federal court order. Privately, he was on the phone trying to strike a compromise with Kennedy.

While Barnett wanted to save face by defending Mississippi’s segregationist laws, the president told him he had a responsibility to uphold federal law.

“What I’d like to do is for this to work out in an amicable way,” Kennedy said to Barnett in a phone call. “We don’t want a lot of people down there getting hurt.”

‘Totally Chaotic’

By Saturday, Sept. 29, 1962, Kennedy was deploying federal marshals to Oxford, and Barnett was making a fiery speech at an Ole Miss football game.

“I love Mississippi! I love her people, our customs,” he said. “I love and I respect our heritage.”

History professor Chuck Ross, director of the African-American Studies Program at Ole Miss, says the speech “was almost like firing on Fort Sumter in 1861.”

“A call to arms … ‘We’re getting ready to be invaded, we really want you as a Mississippian, a white Mississippian, to respond,’ ” Ross says.

On Sunday night, hundreds of white students and protesters from around the region flocked to campus and moved toward the Lyceum, the stately columned building where Meredith would register.

“Marshals surround the Lyceum. They begin to use tear gas. People begin to throw rocks and bottles,” Ross says. “Things just go totally chaotic when it becomes dark, and that’s when people begin to shoot.”

Kennedy activated the Mississippi National Guard and called in Army troops from Memphis, Tenn. By dawn Oct. 1, the riot was quelled and marshals escorted Meredith to his first class, American history.

Meredith: Why Mark The Anniversary?

Ole Miss is commemorating the 50th anniversary of integration on campus Monday with a tribute to Meredith and a series of panel discussions. But the man who made that history doesn’t like the idea of marking the anniversary.

“You know, I got a degree from Ole Miss in political science, history and French. I ain’t never heard of a Frenchman celebrating Waterloo,” Meredith says. “They not only kept me out … they kept all of my blood before me out forever, and I’m supposed to celebrate that?”

It’s not that Meredith, now 79, is bitter. He just rejects the notion that he is some kind of civil rights hero.

He says he enrolled at Ole Miss because he “was born in Mississippi and personally never lost the idea that it belonged to me and my kind.”

Meredith, whose new memoir is called A Mission from God, says he was at war fighting for his God-given rights as an American citizen, and the University of Mississippi was the battleground.

“The reason Ole Miss was established was to refine and define and perpetuate the theory of white supremacy,” he says. “It was the Ivy League of the Southern way of the life.”

A Climate Of Change

The university became a target of civil rights activists soon after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that desegregated public schools.

Slain NAACP leader Medgar Evers applied to law school there and was rejected.

“Medgar came before James Meredith. He paved the way for James Meredith to come along and eventually be successful,” says Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Evers, who was gunned down in 1963.

She says that when Medgar Evers contacted the NAACP to get help with his Ole Miss application, it asked him to be the organization’s leader in Mississippi.

The Ole Miss riots occurred at a time when staunch segregationists — and oftentimes violent racists — dominated the political structure in Mississippi. Being for integration meant being on the wrong side of the powerful White Citizens’ Councils, the Ku Klux Klan and the State Sovereignty Commission, a spy agency.

White professors on campus who supported Meredith’s admission faced intimidation. Marleah Kaufman Hobbs’ husband, a political science professor, got death threats. She was a fine arts grad student at the time. Now 89 years old, she remembers when the riots broke out.

“That night the cracking of the guns, the planes flying overhead bringing in more National Guard — we didn’t sleep at all that night. It was the changing of the world,” she says.

As the world changed around her, Hobbs was painting a giant abstract called BurningMan. The painting was recently discovered on campus and is now on display at the University of Mississippi museum.

“It’s ambiguous, and it just represents a fiery mob … coming and going,” she says.

A ‘Turning Point’

Bishop Duncan Gray Jr., then an Episcopal priest in Oxford, tried to squelch a mob that had gathered atop a Confederate monument on campus.

“Of course, they grabbed me and pulled me down. I’d been hit a few times before, but that’s when I took the roughest beating,” says Gray, who is white.

Gray says the night forever changed the dynamics in Mississippi’s struggle to preserve white supremacy.

“It was a horrible thing, and I’m sorry we had to go through that, but it certainly marked a very definite turning point. And maybe a learning experience for some people,” he says. “I think even the ardent segregationists didn’t want to see violence like that again.”

There would be more violence in Mississippi, targeting civil rights activists. But never again the kind of violent mob rule that took over the campus of Ole Miss 50 years ago.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


South Carolina: Exotic Dancer Not Protected by Worker’s Compensation

By Michael Adams, The Insurance Journal

A South Carolina court has found that an erotic dancer who suffered a gunshot wound while performing is not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits since she didn’t meet the definition of being an employee at the club where she was dancing.

The South Carolina Court of Appeals issued a split decision in the case that originated in 2008 when LeAndra Lewis was working as a dancer at the Boom Boom Room in Columbia, South Carolina. While she was performing a fight broke out among some customers and she was severally injured by a stray gunshot.

Lewis suffered serious internal injuries, lost a kidney and the doctors testified she may never be able to have children. She also said the scarring from the wound and subsequent surgeries ended her ability to work as a dancer and earn her livelihood. See [Lewis v. Boom Boom Room and South Carolina Uninsured Employers’ Fund, Opinion 5032 S.C. (2012)]

The court was asked to decide whether Lewis’ work met the four-prong test as set out in a previous case [Wilkinson v. Palmetto State Transportation, 382 S.C. (2009)] that determines whether someone is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits depending if they are legally classified as an employee or independent contractor.

The four¬-prong test requires that for a worker to be classified as an employee the employer must dictate the scope of their duties, furnish equipment, determine the manner in which they are paid and have the right to terminate their employment.

Lewis testified in the case that while she was a regular dancer at another club, she often traveled around and performed as an erotic dancer in other locations. Several of her fellow dancers testified that it is common for dancers to go to clubs unannounced as they searched for places holding special events that held the promise of them making more money.

Lewis claimed that the Boom Boom Room managers set the terms of her employment by telling her when to dance, what music to use, how her tips would be divided and to perform “VIP” dances and to serve drinks.

She also argued that the club provided the equipment she needed to perform by having a stage, dancing poles, a VIP area and bar and disc jockey.

According to standard practice in the erotic dancing industry, dancers are only paid tips from customers and they pay an agreed upon portion of those tips to the club for allowing them to dance. Therefore, Lewis argued that even though the club doesn’t pay payroll taxes on behalf of the dancers, by setting the percentages the dancer and club would earn the club acts as an employer.

She estimated that depending on the night and number of customers at a club she typically made $250 to $300 a night for a yearly income as high as $82,000, an amount she admitted she never paid income taxes on.

She also contended that the club could fine her or refuse to allow her to dance if she broke the club’s rules, such as performing a sex act with a customer or getting into a fight.

District Court Judge John Few, writing for the majority complimented Lewis and her attorneys for making a “creative presentation,” which made it appear the case met the Wilkinson requirements. However, by an 8-1 margin, the court rejected her position.

Judge Few noted that although the Boom Boom Room manager told Lewis at what times she was to perform that night, the club did not tell her how to dance and her performance was at her complete discretion.

“The extent to which an erotic dancer in the Boom Boom Room decides the manner in which she performs her dance to satisfy the club’s customers is not subject to any limitation or control by the club,” stated Few.

As to furnishing the equipment Lewis needed, Few noted that there is no possibility or expectation that the dancer could bring her own stage, dancing poles or VIP areas to the worksite. Therefore, the club only provided her access to a place to perform in which she needed one thing, namely, her physical presence.

“From the standpoint of both the Boom Boom Room and its customers, Lewis brought her own ‘equipment’ for her work,” wrote Few.

As for compensation, Few pointed out the club did not pay the dancers and its only involvement with the customers on behalf of the dancers was to keep a large supply of dollar bills available. This allowed customers to “make it rain” by throwing money in the air on to the stage after an “enthusiastic performance.” In fact, Few noted, the dancer actually paid the club along with tipping the disc jockey and bartender.

Lewis testified that the club as an employer had the right to fine her or refuse to allow her to dance if she violated the club’s policy against performing a sex act on a customer, fighting or otherwise not doing what the management wanted.

Few said that regardless of whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor, any business is allowed to impose some conditions on their activities. In Lewis case, he the club’s so-called rules where merely a requirement that she “obeyed the law.”

While eight judges voted to deny Lewis’s claim, one judge dissented. District Court Judge Paul Short wrote that Lewis’ met the four-prong test to be classified as an employee, noting that court’s in several other states found the same in similar cases.

Short noted that the Boom Boom Room treated Lewis like an employee by setting out a number of parameters that influenced her activities and compensation, starting with having her sign a form agreeing to comply with the club’s rules.

For example, Short noted, although the club may not have told Lewis “how” to dance, Short said it did set out certain parameters. “Although dancers could choose their own costumes, they could not remove the bottom portion of their costume or choose when they performed on stage,” wrote Short.

Likewise, Short noted that while the Boom Boom Room did not directly pay Lewis it did set out guidelines that helped calculate her compensation. He noted that while the dancers received tips for VIP performances, the club did set the initial fee a customer had to pay to have the dance. And he said there is no difference between the dancer being paid by customers and then paying the club and the club collecting the money and then paying the dancer if the club is setting the percentages that will determine how the money is divided.

“Under the totality of the circumstances, I find the club exercised the sufficient amount of control over Lewis in the performance of her work to establish an employment relationship,” concluded Short in his dissent.


Tennessee: Civil War Trust Offers to Buy Battle Sites

By Kevin Walters, The Tennessean

FRANKLIN — For decades, Franklin’s Civil War battlefield land was developed for homes, businesses and roads.

A tombstone for a Confederate soldier stands in front of Reed's Produce in Rest Haven cemetery off Fourth Avenue in Franklin. / Samuel M. Simpkins / The Tennessean

Starting next year, Franklin could annually earmark $250,000 to buy battlefield properties as part of a first-ever agreement with the nation’s largest Civil War heritage group, the Civil War Trust.

The Washington, D.C.-based Civil Trust, which has been instrumental in Franklin’s recent battlefield purchases, is promising to match an annual $250,000 commitment made by the city — and then annually pursue federal grant money that could raise the total to $1 million, for buying Franklin property where the Battle of Franklin occurred.

The Trust, which has raised more than $4 million since 2005 and reclaimed 174.5 acres in Franklin, has had similar financial arrangements with states, but never a city.

Mike Grainger, a Franklin resident and the trust’s vice chairman, cites the support in City Hall and the growing interest in battlefield reclamation work by the community as keys for the trust’s interest in Franklin, aside from its history.

“I like what Franklin’s doing,” said Grainger. “Franklin’s set the bar as far as doing something that’s really difficult.”

The battle, in which 8,000 were killed, wounded or missing, was fought Nov. 30, 1864, on property along what is now Columbia Avenue and the surrounding areas. Historians once overlooked the firefight’s significance but have since re-examined how the battle of Franklin was instrumental in the Union’s victory because of the heavy Confederate casualties here. National attention has come to Franklin because of the battlefield reclamation and, in 2009, the reburial of an unknown Civil War soldier whose remains were found along Columbia Avenue by crews working on a Chick-fil-A.

Offer well-received

At a presentation to city aldermen this week, Grainger’s proposal found footing. Aldermen want more details about the arrangement but generally seemed supportive because of how the land purchases could bolster tourism and bring more attention to the city.

“Franklin is kind of the poster child for preservation across the country,” Alderman Mike Skinner said.

Trust spokeswoman Mary Koik said the partnership would function more along the lines of the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund, which is a state-level program, in that the money would be appropriated at the beginning of the budget cycle, ready to be used when a land purchase is ready. If Franklin aldermen agree to the deal, they would set aside the $250,000 for the next fiscal year starting July 1, 2013.

Trust officials are confident they could match the city’s $250,000 donation every year with their own donations and pledges. Grainger expects the trust to raise $15 million this year with donations from 55,000 members. As far as grants, he estimated $9 million annually in federal grants for buying Civil War property.

“The benefit of it is having the ability to move fast on transactions,” he said.

The trust needed only a few weeks this summer to raise more than $135,000 needed to buy an empty half acre on Columbia Avenue from Richard Dooley. In September, Franklin aldermen agreed to serve as a pass-through agency needed to complete the transaction.

Separately, the group is also pursuing spending $235,760 in donations and a grant to buy less than quarter of an acre of land known as the Neel tract, also off Columbia Avenue adjoining property where a former Pizza Hut restaurant stood.