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Missouri marijuana initiative goes up in smoke

On
three issues that have become hotly contested in numerous states, Missouri
voters will decide two of them this fall.

A
proposed ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana will not appear on the Nov. 8 ballot after a
judge on Sept. 21 ruled petition signatures were not properly collected. Four
other states — Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota — have initiatives
this year to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.

 

The
two other Missouri ballot initiatives that prevailed over legal challenges this
week, and thus will appear on the ballot, would impose limits on campaign
contributions and increase the state’s tobacco tax by 60 cents. Missouri is one
of 12 states that currently allow unlimited campaign contributions. Missouri currently
has the lowest tobacco tax in the country, at 17 cents per pack.

 

Lawsuits
attempting to prevent these types of measures from going to voters often allege
invalid signatures, unqualified signature gatherers, the unconstitutionality of
the measure, biased or misleading petition language, or other criticisms,
according to Ballotpedia. Lawsuits against citizen initiatives and veto
referendums also are more prevalent than measures issued by state legislatures.

 

Paul
Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge, a nonprofit organization that
advocates for protecting and expanding the initiative and referendum process to
all states, said voters should be allowed to have their say without legal
interference.

 

“Legal
challenges tend to happen when someone thinks a measure actually is going to
pass if it’s on the ballot,” Jacob said. “Filing a lawsuit is a way to try to
defeat it before it gets to the voters. They’re not letting the voters have
their voice when that happens. The whole idea of citizen-driven initiatives is
to allow regular folks to weigh in. It is designed for the people who are not
experts and not lobbyists.”

 

Jacob
said legislatures also try to pass laws that govern and place restrictions on
the citizen-led initiative process. Some objection stems from “ballot-box”
budgeting, in which voters approve measures without the benefit of proper
legislative appropriation of funds, according to Ballotpedia.

 

“Initiative
petitions are an end-around on legislatures’ monopoly to pass laws,” Jacob
said. “It makes it tough for the people to be heard. There are no lobbyists for
the average person to affect democracy. People are supposed to be in charge,
not their public servants. But every January and February when legislatures
convene, there is a monstrosity of legislation to try to limit or hinder
grassroots groups from being able to affect change via initiative petitions,
which ultimately leads to the legal challenges.”

Jacob said that a legislature-driven ballot initiative is rarely challenged
in court.

“Unfortunately,
legal challenges happen way too often and succeed way too often,” Jacob said.
“The courts bend over backwards to uphold legislature-driven ballot proposals
but grassroots efforts often fail. Grassroots efforts often don’t have a legal
team on staff to defend the proposals, either.”

 

In Missouri, Secretary of State Jason
Kander’s statement following the court’s decision against legalizing medical
marijuana, he mentions turning to the legislature for future passage.

“While supporters of this important proposal can try to put it on the ballot
again in two years, I believe it is time for the state legislature to step up,”
Kander said. “The Missouri General Assembly should pass legislation to allow
medical marijuana so Missouri families that could greatly benefit from it don’t
have to watch their loved ones continue suffering.

“If the legislature is not
willing to do that, they should at least put the measure on the ballot
themselves in 2018 to give Missouri voters the opportunity to decide on this
issue.”

Joy Sweeney, executive director of the Council for Drug-Free
Youth in Missouri and chairwoman of the Keeping Missouri Kids Safe Coalition,
intervened in the lawsuit as an advocate for the state’s youth.

“I felt the voice of child safety was not represented in the
case so they put me in as an advocate,” Sweeney said. “I am pleased with the
decision because I feel the research of it being medicinal is not there. I have
a problem with our 12- and 13-year-olds believing that marijuana is a
medication for you. I know the battle is not over because they will bring back
another plan but I am happy that this one is not on the ballot.”

Sweeney also said that she was against the proposal because
it did not allow individual municipalities to opt out.

 

“Colorado has 72 municipalities that do not have marijuana
dispensaries,” Sweeney said. “Missouri’s plan was forcing everybody in the
state to swallow this pill. That was scary to me, especially people who are all
about liberty and freedom. Do you want a dispensary to be forced into your
community?”

Spokespersons
for the Missouri Secretary of State and Attorney General offices said they did
not immediately have information on how much legal battles cost the state’s
taxpayers. The National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks ballot
initiatives each year, also does not have information about the cost to
taxpayers nationwide. Jacob said Citizens in Charge also does not track the data.

 

Nationwide,
157 statewide ballot measures in 35 states have been certified for the Nov. 8,
2016 election, according to Ballotpedia. Citizen-based grassroots
organizations were able to get 74 of those proposals on the ballots via
signature petitions. The remaining were placed via state legislatures.

There
have been 19 legal challenges in 10 states against this year’s ballot
initiatives, with the most in California (four) and second-most in Missouri (three).

 

Twenty-four
states and Washington, D.C. currently have initiative rights for their citizens,
according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (Alaska, Arizona,
Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts,
Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio,
Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming). Maryland and New
Mexico have veto referendum rights for citizens.

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