Court Fight Looms Over Marijuana Ballot Drive

MI Legalize campaign says it will fight on to count signatures the Elections Bureau deemed invalid

Jake Neher/WDET

The state Elections Bureau says the petition drive to legalize marijuana in Michigan has failed to gather enough signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

The MI Legalize campaign needed 252,523 signatures of registered voters to get a citizen-initiated bill before the Legislature or on the November ballot. The campaign turned in an estimated 354,000 names last week. But elections officials tossed all but 146,413. They said the rest were collected outside the 180-window set by law and state policy to collect signatures.  

“Half the signatures were outside that window and could not be counted,” said Elections Bureau spokesman Fred Woodhams.

It will be up to the four-person, bipartisan Board of State Canvassers to decide Thursday whether to ratify the bureau’s recommendation.

MI Legalize and other petition campaigns have contested the 180-day rule and how the state enforces it. The only way around used to be to get affidavits from voters or local clerks that a signor is still a registered voter.

The canvassers board has said “no” to using the state’s computerized voter database to check.

And Governor Rick Snyder has just signed a law that cements the 180-rule and ended the workaround.

“Establishing reasonable time limits on when signatures can be collected helps ensure the issues that make the ballot are the ones that matter most to Michiganders,” he said in a statement released by his office.

But a leader of the marijuana campaign says the rule is unfair and the next stop is court if the Board of State Canvassers refuses to accept signatures that are older than 180 days.

“We’re certainly going to fight hard for the rights of every Michigan voter to have a chance in November to vote on this,” said Jeff Hank of MI Legalize.

Hank says the 180-day requirement means only deep-pocketed special interests will be able to run a successful ballot campaign.

“This attempt to limit our ability to have citizens’ initiatives or constitutional amendments affects everybody,” he said. “It’s larger than marijuana reform. This is a fundamental check and balance in our system, and it’s meant to be there to check the Legislature when they won’t do what the people want.” 

Hank says there is still time to file and litigate the question and make the deadline to get on the November ballot.