John W. Hall, attorney for backers of Issue 7, the medical marijuana initiated act removed from the ballot last week by the Arkansas Supreme Court, says he expects to file a request for rehearing of that decision this morning.
The majority’s strict interpretation of 2013 Ark. Act 1413 results here in a legislative outcome that ultimately infringes on the right of “the people” to initiate laws unless they are well-financed to meet the unwise and unreasonable requirements of the Act in violation of art. 5, § 1, and the equal protection clauses of the Arkansas and United States Constitutions
* Intervenor was denied the opportunity by the Secretary to get an additional 30 days to supplement their signatures because they were facially valid while Issue 6 was short signatures and got it. This violates equal protection and due process. . . .
Unfortunately, an earlier lawsuit that said the canvassing statute was an unconstitutional infringement on the petition power was successful in circuit court but overturned by the Supreme Court. Hall argues that only wealthy interests could afford to spend the money necessary to verify compliance with the canvassing statute before signatures are submitted.
The Supreme Court rarely grants rehearing petitions. It voted 5-2 to disqualify the measure by invalidating some 12,000 signatures for failure of canvassers to comply with a 2015 law that set a variety of restrictions for paid canvassers. The Supreme Court deemed most of the signatures gathered for Issue 7 to have been gathered by paid canvassers, though none was paid. The organizers had said they might pay canvassers eventually if there was any money. The canvassers also had many more signatures that weren’t considered because the secretary of state stopped counting after a sufficient number of valid signatures, plus a cushion, had been reached.
The inability to cure the deficiency and the general unreasonableness of the 2015 law will be the core of the petition for rehearing.
John Lyon at the Arkansas News Bureau wrote a backgrounder on the laws that have burdened the canvassing process. It is the work of lawyers and legislators advancing the corporate interests, particular the two existing casinos, hoping to discourage ballot drives.
The decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court, after more than 100,000 early votes had been cast, outraged backers of medical marijuana, but it has also drawn criticism from opponents. Had Issue 7 backers known what was to come when Secretary of State Mark Martin certified the measure, it could have “cured” the 2,000-signature shortfall by gathering more.
Issue 7 organizers wanted to continue gathering petitions when it turned turn in excess signatures ahead of the deadline, but the secretary of state wouldn’t allow it, having determined the petitions facially valid.
The proposed constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, Issue 6, on the other hand, was deemed to have insufficient signatures and was afforded a 30 day cure period under art. 5, § 1 to continue gathering signatures. So, if the Secretary determines your petition is good on its face, and the Secretary, whose duty it is to screen the petitions and whose vast experience the sponsor is relying on, is later found to have misconstrued the law, just like happened here, you don’t get 30 days to turn in additional signatures just to be safe. Accord: Ark. Code Ann. § 7-9-111(d). If, however, the Secretary finds fault with your petitions and you fall below the threshold, you get more time to gather signatures, literally up until just two months before election day.
That’s is as arbitrary an outcome of a law that one can find
Little Rock lawyer Jack Wagoner worked over the weekend to see if he could develop a separate legal challenge on the Supreme Court decision. He continues to work on it. He has talked to many people, as have I, who voted earlier for 7 and against 6, but would have voted for 6 had they known it would be the only surviving marijuana measure. He added that, even now, posted notices at early voting places listing measures that won’t be counted appears insufficient instruction to him to voters, who’ll find both Issues 6 and 7 on the ballot.
UPDATE: Release from Melissa Fults of the Issue 7 campaign:
Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACC), sponsors of the Issue 7, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act (AMCA), painstakingly ran a grassroots campaign with over 1,600 volunteers since its predecessor campaign faced a narrow defeat during the 2012 election.
In light of the Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling last Thursday to strike 12,104 signatures from the ballot, over 70 percent of those signatures validated by the Secretary of State were thrown out at large due to subjective reasoning and interpretation of the law. Thousands of registered voting Arkansans expressed interest to sign petitions in support of the AMCA, interest which has expanded since the 2012 election of which is also supported by a recent Gallup poll reflecting a record 60 percent of Americans support legal cannabis. After ACC submitted signatures, the campaign was not allowed to continue gathering signatures they are confident were attainable.
“We are filing for a rehearing today because we believe sick and dying patients in Arkansas deserve to have an option to vote for a medical cannabis program that was designed for protecting patients,” said Melissa Fults, Director, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, “The AMCA is patterned from a model similar to those already active within 25 other states; therefore, we are confident this will be a viable, flourishing program for communities in our state.”
ACC needed valid signatures from 8 percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial general election; 67,887 signatures of registered voters are required in order for the Ballot Measure to be placed on the November 8, 2016, general election ballot. Of the 117, 547 signatures submitted, 77, 516 were validated by the Arkansas Secretary of State. Kara Benca needed to invalidate 9,629 to have Issue 7 removed from the ballot. It is important to note that because the Arkansans for Compassionate Care had more than the number of required signatures at the time of submission and validation, they were not allowed to continue collecting.