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Top Idaho Official Dismisses Medical Marijuana Campaign Request For Signature Gathering Relief

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The Idaho secretary of state sent a dismissive response to a group of medical marijuana advocates that requested the ability to collect signatures for their proposed ballot initiative electronically, as is being permitted under a federal judge’s order for a separate campaign.

The Idaho Cannabis Coalition wrote to the office on two separate occasions in recent days, laying out the argument that they have been disadvantaged in signature gathering due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic and threatening litigation if relief isn’t offered. A federal judge agreed last month that those restrictions necessitated accommodations for the separate, education funding-focused initiative.

The marijuana activists said they hoped to avoid litigation with the state and asked officials to proactively lengthen the signature gathering period and let them conduct digital petitioning efforts. But in a letter sent to the campaign on Thursday, Deputy Secretary of State Jason Hancock argued that it would be illegal for the state to allow e-signatures and extend the deadline, and advised them to instead take up their complaints with the legislature.

“What your client is requesting would violate a myriad of Idaho laws relating to initiatives,” the letter, which was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states. “The Secretary of State lacks the constitutional or statutory authority to repeal or modify these laws on initiatives, and therefore has no authority to grant what your client seeks.”

“Since the Idaho Constitution vests the Idaho Legislature with the authority to establish the laws under which initiatives are qualified for the ballot, your client should request that the Legislature change these laws,” Hancock wrote. “If it is critical that your client’s initiative be placed on the November 2020 general election ballot, as opposed to the November 2022 general election ballot, they should also request that the Governor call a special session of the Legislature immediately, in order to pass these law changes with an emergency clause, enabling them to be effective for the November 2020 general election.”

This response isn’t especially surprising given that officials are appealing the federal ruling concerning the other campaign. An appeals court rejected the state’s request for a stay of the order, but the overall case is ongoing while the education funding advocates begin collecting electronic signatures.

“We are not surprised that the secretary of state would dismiss our request for the same relief given Reclaim Idaho. They are offering the same sort of response they gave Reclaim Idaho, the same flimsy reasoning that the courts have already rejected,” Russ Belville, campaign spokesperson for the Idaho Cannabis Coalition, told Marijuana Moment. “We always knew protecting patients in America’s most pot-hating state would require a great deal of effort. Now it appears it will require a lawsuit. We will be coordinating with our donors and legal team this weekend to determine if and how we can make that happen.”

Tamar Todd, legal director for the New Approach PAC, which is lending support to the state cannabis effort, told Marijuana Moment that the letter “did not address the court’s decision in his response or the fact that the coalition is similarly situated to Reclaim Idaho and entitled to the same relief.”

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 text of the deputy secretary of state’s letter to the medical marijuana campaign below:

Mr. Dixon,

Thank you for the letters we received from you on July 9 and July 15, relating to your client’s desire to place an initiative dealing with marijuana on Idaho’s November 2020 general election ballot. What your client is requesting would violate a myriad of Idaho laws relating to initiatives. The Secretary of State lacks the constitutional or statutory authority to repeal or modify these laws on initiatives, and therefore has no authority to grant what your client seeks.

Since the Idaho Constitution vests the Idaho Legislature with the authority to establish the laws under which initiatives are qualified for the ballot, your client should request that the Legislature change these laws. If it is critical that your client’s initiative be placed on the November 2020 general election ballot, as opposed to the November 2022 general election ballot, they should also request that the Governor call a special session of the Legislature immediately, in order to pass these law changes with an emergency clause, enabling them to be effective for the November 2020 general election.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Jason Hancock

This story was updated to include comment from Belville.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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