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Arkansas first Southern state to vote on medical marijuana

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In this Sept 7. photo, marijuana plants grow at the Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, Calif. On the November ballot, Arkansas voters will be asked whether centers like these can be legal in its state.

Come November, Arkansas voters will be faced with a question unprecedented in the South: Should qualified patients be allowed to buy medical marijuana from nonprofit dispensaries with a doctor's recommendation?

The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the proposed ballot measure on Thursday, making "The Natural State" the first in the South to ask its voters about medical marijuana, The Associated Press reported. Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia have already legalized medical marijuana to some degree.

The court's review of "The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act" came after the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values filed a lawsuit in August that tried to get the proposal off the state's ballot, NBC station KARK 4 of Little Rock reported. The conservative coalition claimed that the 384-word ballot question doesn't properly explain the consequences of passing the 8,700-word law, according to the AP. Even if the act were passed, approved patients could still be prosecuted under federal law.

"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."

The conservative coalition, which includes leaders from the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, the Families First Foundation and the Family Council Action Committee, has five days to ask the court for a rehearing, according to KARK 4.

Related: Legalize pot vote coming up in 3 states - Colo., Ore. & Wash.

Danny Johnston / AP

Jerry Cox, the head of the Arkansas Family Council and a member of a coalition of groups opposed to the proposed medical marijuana ballot measure, holds a copy of the proposal as he speaks to reporters in Little Rock, Ark. on Thursday.

An attorney for Arkansas for Compassionate Care — the group behind the measure — said he is pleased with the ruling.

"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," attorney David Couch told the AP.

Following the decision, opponents soon responded on Thursday.

"We've shifted into campaign mode," coalition spokesman Larry Page said, according to KARK 4. "We respect the court's decision, but we are very disappointed that this flawed measure will appear on the ballot."

According to the AP, the proposal lets qualified patients or designated caregivers grow marijuana if the patient lives more than five miles away from a dispensary. It also allows minors to use medical marijuana with parental consent. Cancer, Alzheimer's disease, glaucoma, HIV and AIDS would all be qualifying health conditions.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, is against the measure and told reporters Thursday that he's requested an estimate on how much it will cost to regulate the dispensaries if voters pass it.

"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, according to the AP. "I don't know where we're going to get it from."

Beebe also told reporters that he doesn't believe Arkansas voters would legalize medical marijuana.

While voters in Arkansas and Massachusetts are expected to have their say on this issue on the November ballot, voters in North Dakota won't, after its state Supreme Court ruled the initiative can't appear on its ballot, the AP reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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