LR Attorney Sues to Bar Medical Marijuana from 2016 Ballot; Supreme Court Upholds
UPDATE 11/3/2016: The Arkansas Supreme Court today declined to rehear its decision that knocked Issue 7 off the ballot, giving no further explanation for its ruling against petition signatures for the citizen-sponsored initiative. Melissa Fults of sponsor organization Arkansans for Compassionate Care said they would be working on petition process reforms explaining, “They [the Court] could have done this to anybody.”
UPDATE 10/31/2016: Arkansans for Compassionate Care today asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to reverse its ruling striking Issue 7 from the November ballot for invalid signatures, saying “The Legislature essentially created a trap because it upended many years of prior practice. Issue 7 is the first catch of that trap. If this decision stands, there may be no future grassroots efforts simply because of lack of money.”
UPDATE 10/27/2016: Issue 7, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, was struck from the ballot today by the Arkansas Supreme Court, who ruled that canvassers didn’t correctly follow new canvasser requirements (among other problems). As a result, votes for Issue 7 will not be tabulated (the issue remains on the ballot).
The split Court ruled against supporters by disallowing more than 12,000 signatures; the remaining 65,412 valid signatures didn’t meet the minimum 67,877 required. Listing five reasons the signatures did not qualify, the Court for the first time in recent memory took a stand against supporters of a citizen-initiated measure after confusion surrounding the signature-gathering process.
A 2013 state law governing the process dramatically changed many of the requirements, causing confusion during the actual signature-gathering time-frame. In past rulings under similar circumstances, the Court has ‘given the benefit of the doubt’ to the citizens initiating the measures.
The Court named these problems with the signatures:
♦ Petition gatherers were not properly certified under the new canvasser law.
♦ Signatures had no address or had only a PO box address.
♦ Canvassers verified petitions before voters signed.
♦ Canvassers checked an improper box.
♦ Canvassers did not specifically witness the signatures.
Little Rock attorney Kara Benca filed suit on September 2 against Issue 7: the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, asking the Supreme court to bar it from the ballot, or to ensure votes for it are not counted. Two lawsuits have now been filed in the last 10 days asking that Issue 7 be removed from the ballot.
Benca’s complaint attacks the signature-gathering process, claiming that 15,000 signatures are invalid, thus not meeting the minimum signature threshold and barring the measure from the ballot.
UPDATE 9/27/16: Enough valid signatures exist to keep the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act on the ballot says Special Master John B. Robbins. In his report to the Supreme Court, Robbins threw out 2,087 signatures due to business address issues and other technicalities, but said the bulk of the more than 15,000 disputed signatures are valid. Robbins added the Supreme Court could uphold all the signatures if justices rule that paid canvasser restrictions didn’t apply because the new canvasser requirements were in the midst of a legal challenge during some of the time when signatures were being solicited.
Melissa Fults of Arkansans for Compassionate Care said
I can only hope the Supreme Court accepts his findings and we will continue to be on the ballot and after Nov. 8 Arkansas will be able to legally allow patients to have access to medical cannabis.
UPDATE 9/23/16: The Supreme Court has appointed a special master to listen to arguments and provide a report due on September 28, 2016.
Benca is a life member of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), as is John Wesley Hall of Little Rock, the attorney for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the sponsor of Issue 7.
Melissa Fults of Arkansans for Compassionate Care responded:
“We have checked all the signatures. The secretary of State has checked all the signatures and I’m sure this will all be straightened out in court…I have all my paperwork, and I’ll be glad to take it to the Supreme Court and show that we did what we are supposed to do.
The latest filing complains that Arkansans for Compassionate Care didn’t handle signature-gathering activities appropriately, including education and naming of the people gathering signatures, providing documentation to the Secretary of State, and noting whether signature gatherers were paid or unpaid volunteers. The suit details several problems with signature petitions including no residence for some canvassers on petitions and improper dates on signature verifications. The suit also alleges that signature gatherers didn’t actually watch signers as required by law.
In past suits, the Arkansas Supreme Court has generally ruled in favor of citizens gathering signatures in referendum situations similar to this one.