The Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal Wednesday to attorneys for the MI Legalize group, making it all but certain that November ballots in Michigan won’t include a marijuana question.
The state Supreme Court refused to accept the emergency appeal by Lansing lawyer Jeff Hank, in effect affirming rulings by lower courts that blocked the petition drive of MI Legalize, a group of activists who want marijuana to be made legal in Michigan.
The group waged a yearlong, $1-million campaign to get its marijuana question on fall ballots. But state election officials declared in June that at least 200,000 of the signatures MI Legalize submitted were “stale.” That means they had been gathered outside of the state’s 180-day window for signatures, imposed in the 1980s on those conducting referendum petition drives.
MI Legalize then filed a lawsuit, but the state Court of Claims and then the Michigan Court of Appeals both agreed with the Michigan Bureau of Elections.
Leaders of MI Legalize say they represent a majority of Michiganders who, according to statewide polls, want to see marijuana “taxed and regulated like alcohol,” according to the MI Legalize website. The group’s website and its board members also say that their lawsuit contesting the 180-day window is aimed at helping any similar group that wants to get its petition measure on state ballots but can't afford to hire the scores of paid petition circulators required to obtain enough signatures within 180 days.
Although MI Legalize submitted 354,000 signatures, well over the 252,000 required, state election officials declared that “more than 200,000 were collected more than 180 days before the petition was submitted” to the Secretary of State, according to a Court of Claims ruling on the lawsuit. In its lawsuit, MI Legalize argued that when volunteers submitted a truckload of signed petitions, they also provided the means for proving that the “stale” signatures were, in fact, valid. And the lawsuit said that the 180-day requirement was unconstitutional and unfair.
Even after seeing Wednesday's ruling, the leaders of MI Legalize refused to give up.
“I’m already working on an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Hank, who is chairman of MI Legalize — short for Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee.
Hanks said that because Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is seeking an election ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, after lower courts allowed Michigan's tradition of straight-party voting to continue this fall, “then we would argue the same — that there’s still time, although not much,” to get the group’s marijuana measure on November ballots.
Practically speaking, the high court would need to override Michigan's deadlines for printing and distributing absentee ballots. Municipal clerks start getting their local ballots proofed and printed next week, and they are mailed to overseas military members around Sept. 24, according to the Bureau of Elections.
(2016 © Detroit Free Press)