Court of Appeals Says No to Marijuana Petitions

by CYNTHIA KMETT

The Michigan Court of Appeals last Tuesday refused to hear the appeal of the case of Citizens for A Responsible Troy v. M. Aileen Dickson and City of Troy. The group had circulated petitions during the summer to get a question on the November ballot that would have allowed all the provisions of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (which is not the same as the recreational marijuana question that is on the November ballot).

This medical marijuana act would have allowed medical marijuana businesses to open dispensaries, for medical marijuana to be transported through the city streets, facilities for testing purity of the products, and growers of medical marijuana providers to up the number of plants that could grow from 72 plants to 1,500 plants.

Cities could “opt in” or “opt out” on any or all provisions of the law. Taking a wait-and-see attitude on this legislation to see its effects in other cities, Troy City Council voted not to opt in to any of the provisions.

This made supporters of the new legislation threaten that if Troy didn’t opt in, they’d get the Troy citizens to put it on the ballot through a petition drive. And that’s exactly what they did during the summer.

While Citizens for a Responsible Troy turned in over 515 pages of signatures, a report by City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm to council noted, “there were many signatures that were disqualified for many reasons. Some of the signatures were confirmed to be forgeries. Others were so different from the registered voters’ signatures on file in the Qualified Voter File (QVF) that they were stricken. If a registered voter signed more than one time, both signatures were stricken. Many of the signatories were not registered voters. There were also several pages that were completely stricken, since they were not notarized, or the notary information was incomplete, a circulator failed to sign, or the date of the circulator signatures were inconsistent with the notary’s date on the document. Since many of the signatures were disqualified, Plaintiff did not meet the threshold for providing a minimum of 2,925 signatures, or 5% of the registered voters in the City.”

The city rejected the petitions.

On August 24, Troy got notice that the disqualification of so many signatures was being challenged in Oakland County Circuit Court. The group said they had a right to be on the ballot and that City Clerk Dickson had to accept at least 401 signatures that would have made the question go forward. They wanted the case expedited because ballots were due at the county for printing by August 31.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Shalina Kuman order Troy to appear on September 5. And, Bluhm noted, the county was putting off printing Troy ballots while this case was under consideration.

About 75 pages were disqualified for failure to comply with the notary requirements and if these pages were put back in the stack of petitions, the group was sure they could make the ballot.

In response, Bluhm argued that Troy relied upon the statutory language, which states that “Each sheet of the petition shall be verified by the affidavit of the person who obtained the signatures to the petition.” Under statutes and court rules and under the dictionary definition, affidavits are required to be given under oath, and only notary publics, judges, and court personnel are authorized to administer oaths. As a result, there is no valid affidavit without a valid notary signature, and the pages were properly stricken.”

Bluhm pointed out to the court that under Michigan law, strict compliance is required for initiative and referendum petitions, and substantial compliance is insufficient. As stated in a case dating back to 1916, Thompson v. Secretary of State, “Where a power so great is vested in a minority of the people (5%), every safeguard provided by law against its irregular … exercise should be carefully maintained.”

Judge Kumar agreed and ruled for the city. The petitioners appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, but it ruled against hearing an appeal stating it had no merit. The city’s ballots are now at the printers, and there are several other ballot questions you might want to study before November 6.