Jan. 18 2018 12:42 AM

SOS spokesman: City wrong on excluding pot drive petitions

MedicalMarijuanaGraphic

City officials are preparing to take legal action against 26 noncompliant provisioning centers, but some operators are taking a risk by staying open and pinning their hopes on winning a lawsuit that would in effect nullify Lansing’s medical marijuana facility licensing ordinance.

And they may have reason to be optimistic: A spokesman for the Michigan Secretary of State questioned Tuesday the grounds on which the Lansing City Clerk’s Office threw out hundreds of signatures on the Let Lansing Vote petition to put the city’s new licensing ordinance on the ballot for voters to decide. The initiative only lacked 45 valid signatures. So if Circuit Judge James Jamo agrees with the SOS spokesman and rules in favor of Let Lansing Vote, it appears the ordinance would be frozen, suspending the effort to shut down the 26 that the City Attorney’s Office has identified as operating illegally.

The lawsuit alleges the city improperly voided valid signatures collected by Let Lansing Vote. In October, Let Lansing Vote circulated petitions seeking a referendum to suspend the ordinance and replace it with a proposal from the group, or submit the language to voters for their approval.

Osmar said Let Lansing Vote lawyers actually advised people not to apply for a city license, although many went against that advice and applied anyway. If the lawsuit were to succeed and the ordinance repealed, all application fees paid — $5,000 a pop — would likely be for naught.

The city argues two “circulator errors” — errors made by the person who collect the signatures — were made.

One error involved circulator Vince Ivory, who submitted 226 signatures. Ivory’s collected signatures were voided because he stated his county of registration to be “St. Louis City,” referring to St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis is an independent city, meaning it does not reside within any county and operates as if it were its own county.

Michigan law, according to the publication Circulating and Canvassing City/ Township Nominating and Qualifying Petition Forms from the Secretary of State, allows out of state residents to circulate petitions.

Fred Woodhams, spokesman for Michigan Secretary of State’s Office, said that in instances where a circulator resides in an independent city, the person would list the municipality of his registration instead of the county, as Ivory did.

The other error involved Elbert Burch, who submitted 124 signatures, the lawsuit alleges. Deputy City Clerk Brian Jackson determined that signatures on Burch’s petition forms would not be counted because Burch did not fill in the space labeled “County of Registration.” Burch lives in Grand Rapids, which is in Kent County.

Burch confirmed in an affidavit that he was not registered to vote in any county, according to the lawsuit. Circulators are not required to be registered voters, according to Woodhams.

These voided signatures are crucial because a ruling in favor of reinstating the signatures collected by either Burch or Ivory — presuming enough individual signatures are valid — would give Let Lansing Vote the 4,025, or 5 percent of registered Lansing voters, required to bring the issue to a referendum.

Osmar said he believes this is a “slam dunk” case against the city’s decision to nullify the signatures. He is optimistic about a more positive relationship with the city under new Mayor Andy Schor, but said it remains to be seen whether that means the lawsuit will be resolved in Let Lansing Vote’s favor.

The city has a pending motion to dismiss the case. All hearings on the Let Lansing Vote lawsuit have been scheduled for February, according to Smiertka.

Let Lansing Vote provided City Pulse with a copy of a draft ordinance it would propose in the event the lawsuit succeeds. In the draft, the organization provides less restrictive alternatives to the adopted city ordinance, including removing the cap on provisioning centers.

As the lawsuit is litigated, the city is gearing up to crack down on these rogue provisioning centers, but the details on how that will play out are murky. The enforcement will target those provisioning centers that have not applied for a local license under the city’s medical marijuana licensing ordinance.

Smiertka said the city has identified 26 provisioning centers that have continued to operate in violation of the executive order, issued on Dec. 11.

In the executive order, Bernero called for provisioning centers that had not applied for a city license to shut down by Dec. 22. Smiertka said 31 facilities have since shut down in accordance with the order.

Smiertka said his office is beginning the enforcement process against those that have not shut down. The city has been tracking noncompliant facilities using a compilation of existing lists and personal observations by city personnel, according to Smiertka. Citing the ongoing enforcement actions, he declined to identify the facilities.

The city’s efforts to track noncompliant facilities have been flawed, according to Osmar. He said he has been in contact with puzzled operators who believed they had complied with the executive order yet still received cease-and-desist letters.

In a few cases, Osmar said cease-anddesist letters had been sent to addresses that have never operated as provisioning centers.

“I’m getting complaints from people that have storefronts that do other things,” Osmar said. They’re like, ‘Why are we getting a cease-and-desist? Is it going to be a problem?’ They’re scared, because there’s no way for them to prove a negative.”

Osmar declined to identify anyone who made such a complaint.

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