A group of marijuana activists in Michigan is asking for more time to collect signatures so it can put legalization on the statewide ballot in 2016.
The Comprehensive Cannabis Law Committee, also known as MI Legalize, is one of two groups pushing ballot initiatives to legalize. Activists with the other organization are also gathering voter signatures.
The MI Legalize initiative would make it legal for adults to grow, buy, possess, and use small amounts of marijuana for recreation. The drug is already legal for medical use.
Each group submitted a petition to state election officials earlier this year. They were then given 180 days to gather 252,523 valid voter signatures. MI Legalize started that work in June, but it’s unclear how many signatures they had collected by December.
The 180-day window will expire for MI Legalize Dec. 21, but the group plans to extend its petition drive until activists obtain enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot in November. State law gives them the option to do that, though it means some of their earliest signatures could be invalidated.
“The 180-day period is a floating time frame,” said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Michigan secretary of state’s office. “It is calculated from the day of filing by counting backwards 180 days. Each campaign has to decide on moving forward whether to ‘lose’ signatures from the front end as more signatures are collected.”
Reform group expecting to gather enough signatures
Advocates at MI Legalize said they didn’t begin using paid, professional activists to coordinate the campaign until weeks after it started, so they said they expect to gain more signatures now than they’ll lose from the early period.
But a loophole in state law could make it possible to hold onto those initial signatures. That rule allows petitioners to “rebut” determinations that those signatures are “stale and void” even if they fall outside the 180-day calendar.
Even so, organizers have asked volunteers across the state to submit signatures by the Dec. 21 deadline. That will tell them how many more voters they must convince to sign the petition in coming weeks.
Adequate financial resources
“A lot of people out there don’t even know the end is coming up here,” said Jeff Hank, head of MI Legalize, referring to volunteers. “We just need to get everyone aware of that. Things are still looking good. We have the financial resources to do this.”
MI Legalize wants to legalize use of the drug by anyone over the age of 21 and levy a 10 percent tax on retail sales. Licensing of the cannabis industry would be handled by local governments.
In addition to the 180-day rule, the state has set a hard deadline of June 1 for all groups to turn in signatures. If election officials validate enough of them, either or both petitions could make the ballot.
Michigan is one of several states looking at legalization in 2016. California is also likely to vote on the issue, while Nevada already has an initiative slated for the election. Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and New York could also legalize next year.