By Steve Rusakiewicz, News Writer
On September 20 at 4:00 p.m. the River Front Times website reported that Cole County Judge Daniel Green had ruled local election authorities and the Missouri Secretary of State had acted properly when they invalidated hundreds of petition signatures that had been collected on the wrong county form. The ruling effectively kills any remaining chance of the medical cannabis measure to make the November ballot. Trouble began last month when Secretary of State Jason Kander announced more than ten thousand signatures from Missouri’s second Congressional District had to be thrown out, leaving the New Approach Missouri-sponsored initiative just 2,242 signatures shy of the 32,337 target. New Approach sued the Secretary, claiming the signatures were wrongly invalidated and submitted their evidence to argue 2,219 of those dismissed signatures were, in fact, valid. However, this still left the group with a twenty three signature deficit in the district.
Petitioning for changes to the state constitution is a detail-oriented process that can sometimes present challenges to people not familiar with the laws that govern petitions. Signatures must come from registered voters, and it is up to the petitioner to ensure that each voter signs their name and information to the form corresponding to their county of voter registration. Upon receipt of the petitions, local authorities are then tasked with cross-checking each signature against registration information in their county records. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, some witnesses testifying in the New Approach lawsuit said they often encountered voters who did not know which county they were registered to vote in, while staffers occasionally became confused by the ballot initiative process. John Payne, campaign manager for the New Approach initiative, argued not every signature ought to be thrown out merely because it does not match perfectly to records. One possible scenario Payne suggested was a supporter signing during inclement weather, causing a rush which could easily lead to mistakes of oversight on the form. Another explanation by Payne for such a mismatch was that many supporters of medical marijuana have progressive nervous and muscular degenerative diseases, which makes signing their names more difficult.
Supporters of medical marijuana come from all walks of life. From war veterans to cancer patients to the mothers of children with epilepsy and cerebral palsy, along with farmers who are eager to grow the crop, Missourians everywhere are standing up and declaring they are no longer content to sit by and allow a plant that has been repeatedly shown to possess medicinal qualities to be criminalized. Kander, demonstrating an awareness of the momentum behind this initiative, called on the Missouri State Assembly to take action on medical cannabis. In a statement posted to his office’s website on September 22, Kander says:
“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. The Missouri General Assembly should pass legislation to allow medical marijuana so Missouri families [who] 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 the voters of Missouri the opportunity to decide on this issue.”
Kander’s support of placing the issue of marijuana legislation before the people echoes the feelings of some very well-known and influential people who have also spoken out in support of cannabis law reform. Morgan Freeman, a long-time supporter of reform, has publicly declared cannabis prohibition to be “the stupidest law possible,” going on to say that anti-cannabis laws merely make criminals out of people who aren’t engaged in criminal activity. Jack Nicholson pointed out the fact that forty thousand dollars per year is spent on every non-violent drug offender currently serving sentences under today’s cannabis laws, while Woody Harrelson argues that people who do not have the right to do what they wish, without hurting anybody, are not truly free. Danny Glover declared marijuana laws affect African-Americans and Hispanics disproportionately, and Carlos Santana suggested we take all the money wasted on cannabis interdiction and invest it in teachers. Outside of Hollywood, Carl Sagan is on the record as saying “The illegality of cannabis is outrageous.” Michael Phelps has become the antithesis of what prohibitionists say use of cannabis leads to, and even the Olympic committee said they would no longer penalize athletes who use cannabis.
Whatever your beliefs may be about cannabis, the next two years of the political climate here in Missouri appear as though they will be heavily influenced by the issue.