Michigan voters may end up getting cheated out of a crucial opportunity to legalize marijuana later this year if a bill aimed at revising the rules of an election law happens to take effect before advocates can collect remaining signatures needed to get their proposal on the ballot in November’s general election.
The Michigan Senate voted on Thursday in favor of a proposal that would impose a strict 180-day window on groups working to collect signatures for statewide ballot measures. The proposal, which is now on its way to the House of Representatives for consideration, would basically amend the language of the law to clarify that all signatures must be gathered within 180 days – no extensions, no debate.
“It’s very simple: 180 days means 180 days,” Senator Dave Robertson, the bill’s primary sponsor, told The Detroit News. “We’re not changing it. We’re affirming it.”
Unfortunately, the passing of this measure could sabotage the state’s most promising initiative seeking to legalize a full-scale recreational cannabis industry in 2016. Organizers with MILegalize, also known as the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, are concerned that with the legislature hell bent on closing a loophole on the signature gathering process, it could end up disqualifying all of the petitions they have secured outside the allotted 180-days.
MILegalize was supposed to have all 253,000 signatures turned in to the Secretary of State’s office on Dec. 20, yet they are still working against an election law that suggests there is “rebuttable presumption” that any signatures gathered after the 180-day deadline are “stale and void.” The group argues the law could easily be contested in court because while it was virtually impossible to determine whether a signature was “stale” when the law was created, now, with modern technology, older signatures can easily be confirmed and certified.
Some lawmakers claim this attempt at passing the bill is simply a last ditch effort to prevent the state from legalizing marijuana outside the strong arm of the Michigan legislature. “They decided to pass a bill to stop that process,” said state Senator Coleman Young II. “They’re not doing this because of legitimate reasons; they’re doing this simply because they don’t like the issue of the legalization of marijuana.”
A post on the MILegalize website indicates that the group still needs another 50,000 signatures before they can qualify their initiative for the forth coming election. Unfortunately, this may be too much of a gap to thwart the efforts of the House of Representatives, which is expected to pass the bill expeditiously, in an effort to get it to the desk of Governor Rick Snyder, who is reportedly waiting to sign the bill with pen already in hand.
If this measure becomes law, which is expected, not only does it stand to crush the efforts of MILegalize, but it would also destroy the chances of any other group qualifying a marijuana ballot initiative this year. Yet, organizers are not prepared to lie down and die.
“Petitioning is a fundamental right, just like freedom of speech, and so the policy (that regulates it) has to be the least burdensome way of exercising that right,” said Jeff Hank, chairman of MILegalize “If the state doesn’t approve us for the ballot, we’re going to sue — that’s 100 percent guaranteed.”
Are Michigan voters getting cheated out of an opportunity to legalize cannabis?