A campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho is threatening legal action against the state if officials continue to refuse activists an opportunity to collect signatures electronically after the coronavirus pandemic upended in-person petitioning efforts.
The same relief being requested by the cannabis advocates has already been granted to a separate campaign behind an education funding initiative after a federal judge ruled that the state’s shelter-in-place and social distancing orders inhibited them from gathering signatures. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition says it should also be entitled to the benefit.
A law firm representing the campaign sent a letter to the secretary of state on Monday, expressing disappointment that the office did not respond to an earlier inquiry seeking permission to collect signatures digitally like the other campaign. While the cannabis effort “has no interest in litigation,” the letter makes clear that the campaign will pursue that route if they don’t hear back by Thursday.
“As detailed in my earlier correspondence, the Coalition was well on its way to successfully collecting the statutorily required signatures needed to get the Act on the 2020 ballot when the March 13, 2020 state of emergency was declared,” the firm said. “As a result, the Coalition’s ability to collect signatures was destroyed. Consistent with Judge Winmill’s ruling, this had the effect of impacting the constitutional rights of groups like the Coalition.”
“Unfortunately, there is not much time to remedy this unintentional infringement,” it continues. “If the Secretary of State is unwilling to pursue a cooperative remedy for the Coalition, there simply is not time to wait given the amount of time needed to collect signatures and the impending November election.”
Tamar Todd, legal director for the New Approach PAC, which is lending support to the state cannabis effort, reiterated in an email to Marijuana Moment that the goal of the letter is “to avoid unnecessary litigation by asking the Secretary of State to allow the Coalition to collect signatures in the same manner as Reclaim Idaho.”
“The Coalition is similarly situated to Reclaim and is entitled to the same relief. But for COVID-19 and the disruption caused to signature collection, the medical marijuana petition could have qualified for the ballot,” she said.
After a federal judge ruled that the education-focused campaign could collect signatures electronically for 48 days, the state appealed. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied their request for a temporary stay of the order, but the case in ongoing. In the meantime, Reclaim Idaho has launched a site where registered voters can sign their ballot petition online through a DocuSign form.
If the cannabis campaign is ultimately allowed to proceed with signature gathering, they will need 55,057 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Activists said they have about 45,000 unverified signatures on hand at this point, and they’re confident that can fill the gap if they get the deadline extension and electronic petitioning option.
Under the proposed ballot measure, patients with qualifying conditions could receive medical cannabis recommendations from physicians and then possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
Advocates say that passing medical cannabis in one of the remaining states without such policies on the books would be a significant victory for patients in its own right—but it could also have outsized federal implications. A House-passed bill to protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators is currently pending action in a Senate committee chaired by a senator who represents the state.
Creating a medical marijuana program in Idaho, which is one of small handful of states that don’t yet even have limited CBD laws, could put additional pressure on Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) to move the financial services legislation in Congress.
Read the letter to Idaho’s secretary of state on electronic signature gathering for the cannabis initiative below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.