89.1 WEMU

Marijuana Legalization Campaign Headed To Court

Jun 10, 2016

Cannabis Leaf
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

A state elections board has rejected petitions filed by the campaign to legalize marijuana in Michigan.  The next step appears to be a court battle over the time limits set by the state to gather petition signatures. 


Half the estimated 350,000 signatures filed by the MI Legalize campaign were rejected because they were collected outside a 180-day time period.  But the campaign says the standard, which the state has used since 1986, is arbitrary and unfair. 

The 180-day rule means only special interests with deep pockets have the resources to hire enough petition circulators to initiate a law when the Legislature won’t act, says Thomas Lavigne, a marijuana rights attorney who serves on the MI Legalize board.  “Through this policy, they’re allowing big money to influence the check and balance, the people’s initiative,” he says.  “Only huge-money interests would ever be able to put something on the ballot, and that is not the intention.  This was for the people.  This was for the grassroots.” 

There is a process to salvage dated signatures.  But it requires campaigns to get affidavits from local clerks or the people who signed petitions certifying they are still registered voters.  It’s never been successfully used, and MI Legalize say it’s an impossible standard. 

Lavigne says the state constitution gives petition drives the four years between gubernatorial elections to collect signatures.  The MI Legalize campaign expects to be in court early next week to challenge the board’s decision.

Republican board member Norm Shinkle says the marijuana campaign is simply being treated like every other petition drive.  “It’s changing the rules in the middle of the game,” he says.  “They knew what the rules were when they started their petition drive.  They just didn’t get enough signatures, and they’re coming to us wanting to change the rules.” 

Governor Rick Snyder signed a law earlier this week to cements the 180-day requirement and repeal the option of using affidavits to resuscitate stale signatures.  The law did not play a part in the board decision, but it is being challenged in a separate lawsuit by another failed petition campaign. 

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— Rick Pluta is the Managing Editor and Reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org