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Marijuana advocates are no stranger to ‘invalid signatures’ on petitions


It’s potentially a big day in the world of marijuana. Proponents of a ballot measure seeking to legalize pot for people 21 and older will turn in another batch of signatures today to make up for what Secretary of State Scott Gessler said was a deficiency of about 2,500.

Originally, the group behind the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act turned in nearly twice as many as the 86,105 signatures needed to take the matter to voters, but was told that more than half were invalid. Proponents were given time to make up the shortfall and, according to Westword, are prepared to turn in nearly five times the amount necessary.

Whether these new signatures will pass muster is an open question. Colorado has a history of marijuana legalization measures falling mysteriously short of the necessary threshold. In fact, the medical marijuana amendment that passed in 2000 could have been in effect a year earlier if then-Secretary of State Victoria Buckley hadn’t “lost” a batch of petitions containing valid signatures.

In 1998, petitioners needed to only gather 54,242 valid signatures to make the ballot, but Buckley’s office deemed the number that was turned in to be insufficient. Supporters took her to court to argue otherwise and Buckley was overruled. The amendment was put on the ballot and Coloradans voted on it.

But the votes were never counted. The state Supreme Court overruled the lower court’s decision, agreeing with Buckley that there were not enough valid signatures, a decision that rendered the votes null and void.

But after Buckley died of heart failure in July 1999, her predecessor, Donetta Davidson, found 66 pages of signatures in her office that were never included in the original count. After personally tallying them all, Davidson found that there were indeed enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, albeit barely. So the medical marijuana amendment was placed on the 2000 ballot and the rest is history.

The official explanation for the missing signatures is that Buckley’s office was understaffed and that they were innocently overlooked. That can be hard for some people to swallow, considering the degree of attention the proposal had at the time and that it was dragged through court up to the highest level in the state. According to an article in the Rocky Mountain News, though, that’s the line everyone stuck to. In fact, Davidson said she assumed the petitions were found in Buckley’s office not because they were stashed where they’d never be found, but because Buckley was busy recounting them in order to correct her error when she died.

The main backer of the medical marijuana amendment, Martin Chilcutt, graciously declined to speculate on the truth of this version of events, saying only, “Bless her, she’s not here.”

The backers of the current legalization effort—led by Mason Tvert of SAFER—have been equally gracious in giving Gessler, the current secretary of state, the benefit of the doubt that approximately 80,000 of the original signatures were invalid. That could partly be because there seems to be little trouble getting Coloradans to sign the petitions. In fact, the deadline to cure the deficiency isn’t until Tuesday. But because they’d collected so many so soon, Tvert told Westword that there was little point in waiting to submit them.

“(W)e’re moving forward with the campaign as we had planned,” he’s quoted as saying, “because we have been confident from the beginning that there are more than enough Coloradans out there who believe it’s time to end prohibition and begin regulating marijuana like alcohol.”