On June 1, MI Legalize turned in petitions containing more than 350,000 signatures calling for a statewide vote to decriminalize marijuana. On June 9, the State Board of Canvassers rejected 137,000 signatures gathered before last December. That left the pro-pot group more than 30,000 short of the number needed to get on the ballot. An anti-fracking group also saw signatures more than 180 days old rejected. Unless the courts overrule the decision, neither initiative will make the November ballot.
The Board of Canvassers was following a recommendation from the Bureau of Elections as well as a new state law signed by Gov. Snyder on June 8. But supporters of decriminalization are up in arms. “The Bureau of Elections is wrong to not count the total number of valid signatures we turned in June 1,” emails Chuck Ream, longtime local pot advocate and a founder of MI Legalize. “The Board of Canvassers is wrong to not modernize policy in accordance with the law.”
Ann Arbor state rep Jeff Irwin believes the canvassers “are mistaken in their interpretation” of the old state law. “In 1986, the State Board of Canvassers developed a procedure to rehabilitate signatures older than 180 days,” he explains by phone from Lansing. “The procedure is very onerous and was never used. Then in 2015, Jeff Hank, one of MI Legalize’s attorneys, proposed an easier way to satisfy the requirement using the [state’s] qualified voter file–and the State Board of Canvassers’ staff said Hank was right.
“That set off a firestorm,” Irwin continues. By making 180 days the absolute limit for gathering signatures, he charges, the legislature’s Republican majority “deliberately changed the law to cut off certain groups.”
MI Legalize has sued to overturn both the new law and the canvassers’ interpretation of the old one. If the suit succeeds, Irwin believes, decriminalization could pass this year. But whatever the courts decide, he predicts, “It’s going to happen eventually … The numbers [favoring decriminalization] are moving quickly, 3 points a year, and we’ll be at 60 percent in public opinion approval by 2018.”