Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, June 3, 2016

Interesting legal battle already emerging in Michigan about whether legalization initiative will get to voters in November 2016

Download (17)As reported in this local article, headlined "Petitions to legalize marijuana to face likely fight," the submission of hundreds of thousands of signatures in Michigan is likely to kick off even more uncertainty about whether voters in the state will get a chance this fall to vote on full legalization of marijuana. Here are just some of the intricacies of what should be an interesting story to follow:

Leaders of a statewide group who want recreational marijuana legalized in Michigan turned in 354,000 signatures Wednesday on petitions aimed at putting a question before voters on November ballots.  As with nearly every step in the controversial, year-long effort of fund-raising and petition passing, the next stage in the battle to be on the ballot is fraught with unknowns.  There likely will be lawsuits, administrative roadblocks in Lansing and even lawmakers' challenges that could derail the effort.

The key issue? Although a state formula required the group to gather 252,523 signatures to qualify for ballots and the petitioners turned in far more, a majority of signatures likely will be deemed invalid. That's because state law says that any signature gathered more than 180 days before being filed with the state is presumed to be “stale and void,” unless the petitioner can prove otherwise. Leaders of the drive said they’ve offered ample proof and they’re prepared to make it stick — in court, if necessary.

Opposing the ballot proposal and the legalization of marijuana in Michigan have been virtually all law enforcement officials and police groups, as well as many educators and youth drug-abuse prevention groups such as the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families, which used a federal grant to launch Mobilizing Michigan — a kit of education materials to tell young people about the dangers of marijuana.  The kit has been sent to scores of high schools across Michigan, according to the group’s website....

But the prospect of a lawsuits or other roadblocks wasn't dimming the hopes of Debra Young of Oak Park, who was one of what she said “had to be thousands” of volunteers working in every county of Michigan on behalf of having Michigan join Colorado and Washington state in legalizing marijuana.  “I’ve been gathering signatures since day one. I probably got 3,000 myself, personally,” said Young, a longtime user of medical marijuana to treat her glaucoma. She’s a board member of the campaign, called the Committee for MILegalize.

“Finally, we can de-stress,” she said Thursday. “We had fund-raisers.  We had outreach. We were at every major event — ball games, concerts at DTE Energy (Music Theatre), festivals. I’ve been working on this literally every minute possible for a year,” Young said.

Because the 180-day limit for gathering signatures is a vague and untested area in state law, seen by many as unenforceable, a majority of state legislators passed a bill last month making it explicit law. But the bill wasn't presented to Gov. Rick Snyder until Wednesday — the very day that MiLegalize petitions were turned in, according to the Cannabis Law Blog of the Dykema Gossett law firm in Detroit.

Snyder had yet to sign the bill, but even if he does, “We don’t see how it would apply retroactively to us,” said Jeff Hank, a Lansing lawyer who chaired the MILegalize campaign.  He readily admitted that MILegalize has circulated petitions “for about 11 months,” about five months longer than the 180-day window cited in state law, he said. Still, the same law allows a committee to prove that a stale signature is valid — that is, it still refers to a registered voter at the address listed at the moment the signature is submitted to state officials.

“We used the state’s own records to validate most of our signatures. We’re confident that we have the 253,000 or so that we need,” Hank said. Moreover, the dispute is about more than marijuana, Hank said.  "It’s about the average citizen's ability to directly participate in our form of government,” he said.  Gathering signatures to put a question on election ballots “was meant to be used by the citizens when the system isn’t responding to them, and we all know that state government has absolutely not been responsive to Michigan voters on some key issues,” he said....

A spokesman for the state Bureau of Elections confirmed Thursday that MILegalize submitted “an estimated 354,000 signatures” on Wednesday.  Now comes a waiting game for both those who favor and those who oppose legalizing cannabis in Michigan.  “The review and verification process will take at least two months before a report is made to the Board of State Canvassers," Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said.  Sometime after that, with no scheduled date, "the board will vote on whether enough valid signatures were filed," Woodhams said Thursday.

Although leaders of the petition campaign said that the two-month wait seems excessive, that much time is needed for state officials to verify the signatures, Woodhams said. The two months "also includes a time period for challenges to be filed against the signatures by members of the public,” he said. 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2016/06/interesting-legal-battle-already-emerging-in-michigan-about-whether-legalization-initiative-will-get.html

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