Pubdate: Fri, 26 Sep 2003
Source: Juneau Empire (AK)
Copyright: 2003 Southeastern Newspaper Corp
Author: Timothy Inklebarger
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Ballot Initiatives)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


State Court Reverses Decision To Reject Pot Initiative Signatures

Pro-marijuana advocates got a boost this week when Anchorage Superior Court 
Judge John Suddock ordered Lt. Gov. Loren Leman to accept almost 200 
initiative signature booklets rejected in January on "trivial rule violations."

The initiative, which would decriminalize private use of marijuana for 
those 21 and older, could make it on the ballot for the 2004 general 
election, if certified by the Division of Elections.

Initiative sponsors submitted nearly 50,000 signatures for certification on 
Nov. 14, 2002. But the following January, Leman rejected 194 of the 484 
signature booklets submitted by the initiative sponsors.

The rejected booklets represent more than 40 percent of the signatures 
gathered by initiative sponsors, leaving the petition 7,045 signatures 
short of its 21,737 goal.

Leman threw out 188 of the booklets because those who collected the 
signatures did not fill out sponsor accountability reports, identifying who 
collected the signatures. Each book holds about 150 signatures.

Three booklets were rejected because those collecting the signatures were 
not registered to vote.

Another booklet was rejected because the circulator did not check a box on 
the front cover stating he was paid to collect the signatures. Two other 
booklets similarly were rejected because they did not identify the name of 
the organization paying the circulator to collect the signatures.

Girdwood's Scot Dunnachie, a campaign manager for the initiative, said the 
petition was thrown out on technicalities.

"By regulation, I was supposed to turn in an accountability report saying 
who I passed the books out to," Dunnachie said. "They should have fined us 
for it. Instead they just didn't count the signatures."

On Tuesday, Judge Suddock agreed.

"Our Supreme Court has reiterated on several occasions that the right to 
initiative is not to be defeated by technical rule violations," the court 
decision read.

It also notes that while the Division of Elections might not have 
deliberately hindered the sponsors, it also did nothing to alert them about 
the filing errors.

"The Court is hesitant to find on this record that the Division of 
Elections lay as a snake in the grass, knowing that the initiative 
committee was at risk by virtue of its reporting errors ... However, the 
Division was, at least, asleep at the switch," the decision states.

But Dunnachie said he suspectd that Leman rejected the initiative because 
of his own personal philosophy against legalized marijuana.

"We anticipated some type of adversity from Loren Leman," Dunnachie said, 
noting that it was one of the reasons they collected so many extra 
signatures. "I do feel that there was something personal there. It is rare 
that an initiative is thrown out over a regulation."

Leman denied the claim that he was not impartial in the decision.

"That's incorrect," he said from his Anchorage office. "I have certified 
initiatives that I don't agree with, and I have not certified initiatives 
that I do agree with."

Leman acknowledged that he does not support the initiative but said his 
personal opinion was not a factor in the decision.

When asked if the Division of Elections maintains the same level of 
technical scrutiny for every ballot initiative signature booklet Leman 
said: "I don't know. I assume so."

Leman noted that he was not personally involved in reviewing the signature 

"I can't tell you how they scrutinize every single booklet," he said. "I 
believe they are fair and honest."

The Alaska Department of Law has until Oct. 23 to decide whether it will 
appeal the decision, according to Department of Law Spokeswoman Theresa 
Woelk. If it does, the case will go to the Alaska Supreme Court.
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