Michigan pot legalization group submits signatures

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan marijuana activists on Wednesday submitted more than 350,000 petition signatures in hopes of putting a recreational legalization question before voters this fall, but the prospects of making the November ballot remain cloudy.

“It was a huge effort,” Jeff Hank, executive director of MI Legalize, told reporters outside the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office. “We had thousands of people volunteer to circulate petitions, and we had all sorts of people donate small amounts of money.”

MI Legalize needed to submit at least 252,523 signatures by Wednesday, but it’s unclear how many of its signatures will be considered valid because the group collected well beyond a traditional 180-day window written into state law.

Hank’s attempt to update the policy for rehabilitating older signatures was rebuffed by the Board of State Canvassers. The Legislature recently approved a bill that would eliminate the option, solidifying the 180-day window that MI Legalize blew past.

“We were the only one who filed, so we’re just going to wait and see what the Bureau of Elections does,” said Hank, alluding to a second marijuana legalization group that did not submit signatures by the deadline. “Gov. Snyder hasn’t signed the bill yet, so we’ll kind of wait and see.”

The ballot proposal would allow adults over the age of 21 to purchase, possess or use marijuana. Retail sales would be taxed at 10 percent, with revenue going toward roads, schools and local governments.

The Bureau of Elections will review the MI Legalize submission and prepare a report for the Board of State Canvassers recommending whether the group submitted enough valid signatures to make the ballot, a process that is likely to take at least 60 days, Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said.

“At that point, we’ll certainly be reviewing what the law says,” Woodhams said.

MI Legalize is considering a possible lawsuit against the state, arguing the 180-day signature window violates the Michigan Constitution.

But a committee seeking to ban hydraulic fracturing beat them to the bunch, announcing Wednesday that it was filing suit in the state Court of Claims. The “anti-fracking” group did not have enough signatures to make the November ballot but said it plans to continue gathering for 2018.

MI Legalize is still aiming for 2016.

“We don’t think the 180-day rule is going to be applied, and if it is, then we’ll definitely fight for every signature we’ve got,” said Hank. “We’re preparing (for litigation), but we hope it’s not necessary.”

joosting@detroitnews.com