Pot proponents file lawsuit
Supporters of changes in Nevada marijuana laws have gone to court to force the state to process their initiative petition.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada filed suit on Jan. 12 against the Nevada secretary of state, who, together with the state attorney general, increased the number of signatures needed for ballot petitions, disqualifying every petition submitted, not just the marijuana measure.

Groups circulating ballot petitions, acting on the advice of county and state election officials, gathered enough signatures to equal 10 percent of the number of voters who went to the polls in 2002, a non-presidential year with low turnout.

After the different groups turned in their signatures, petitioners were told they needed signatures from 10 percent of the number who voted in the 2004 presidential, the first post-World War II election that showed a substantial gain in voter turnout. That torpedoed every successful petition. The groups circulating ballot petitions called it a case of changing the rules after the game was played. Bruce Mirkin of MPP said telling the signature gatherers to collect one number of signatures before the election and then changing it to a different number afterward breaches the nation’s basic law.

“The unannounced and arbitrary changes to what had been established election procedures clearly violate the due-process clause of the 13th Amendment, which is one of the hearts of the legal argument. … [T]he reasoning was conjured up to match the result they wanted. A reasonable mind would suspect that.”

The marijuana advocates especially object to the position taken by the Attorney General’s Office that a petition is not filed when it’s filed. The AG says it’s filed not when it is handed over the counter to county clerks but when election officials have validated all the signatures and certified the petition.

That would mean, Mirken says, that if the petitioners had turned in their petitions before the 2004 election, they would still have had to comply with a “turnout standard of an election that hadn’t taken place yet.”

Other ballot petitions disqualified because of the revised standards for signatures included anti-tobacco measures, and at least one of the groups sponsoring those measures is also going to court to get its petition on the ballot.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...