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Group pushing for marijuana legalization in MI could have huge impact on future ballot campaigns

The group that’s trying to legalize marijuana in Michigan is telling the state: See you in court.

And the outcome of the challenge could have a huge impact on politics, law-making, and future elections in Michigan.

Petition campaigns

The group MI Legalize is trying to gather enough signatures to put the question of marijuana legalization on the November ballot. But, a state elections board rejected the group’s petition drive because they didn’t gather enough signatures within the legally required six-month period. But the Michigan Constitution - Article 2, Section 9 - adopted in 1963 that allows for citizen-spearheaded initiatives to adopt laws, does not have a 180-day requirement for collecting signatures. The 180 days has only been a rule since the 1980s when the Legislature adopted a law.

And now, some petition campaigns are saying that law is out of bounds. They’re arguing that lawmakers can set some technical requirements on petitions, like font and type size and the width and length of the sheets of paper (basically what the petitions look like) but that the time limits are set out in the state constitution.

They are arguing the limit is not 180 days but, rather, the four years between gubernatorial elections. And, that that can’t be preempted by a law or administrative policy.

Going to court

The MI Legalize campaign expects to file a lawsuit this week. The group’s leader and attorney Jeff Hank says the 180-day rule violates Michigan citizens’ right to initiate laws. “This is a fundamental check and balance in our system, and it’s meant to be there to check the Legislature when they won’t do what the people want,” Hank told reporters last week.

Meantime, the group trying to get a ban on fracking on the ballot has already filed a lawsuit in the state Court of Claims.

Unexpected consequences?

If these lawsuits prevail, it’s a whole new game for ballot questions in Michigan. Petition campaigns would have the four years between gubernatorial elections to get signatures. More time probably means more successful petition drives which, in turn, likely means more ballot questions in the future.

And how might the Legislature react to the possibility that its work can more easily be preempted by a petition drive? What would it mean for redistricting reform, gun laws, wage and employment policies, the environment and union rights?

Now, we should note, these court fights could drag on long enough that even a victory might not come in time for the marijuana initiative to make this year’s ballot.

But it would still cause a profound change in politics and elections in Michigan.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.