Medical marijuana on ballot once again

By Doug Malkan, SFP Oct 2000

As one of only two states in the country to have a medical marijuana question on the ballot, Colorado is unique this upcoming election.

In the strangest of circumstances in what critics say was "mishandling," the pot question is on the ballot not by petitioning, but by court order this time. That is because in 1998, petitioners turned in 88,000 signatures to place the question on the ballot. But Secretary of State Vicki Buckley rejected 37,000 signatures, leaving the initiative 2,500 signatures short of qualifying.

The petitioners won in court in October 1998, when a judge ruled that the question be placed on that year's ballot. He said Buckley "bungled" the signature count.

Those who voted in the last election remember the medical marijuana question being on the ballot as Amendment 19; however, Buckley did not count the votes. Buckley appealed the district court judge's decision and maintained that there were not enough valid signatures on the petition to qualify for the ballot.

It was only much later in July 1999 when Buckley, 51, died suddenly of a heart attack that the current secretary of state, Donetta Davidson, initiated another recount under pressure from petitioners. Davidson found boxes of signed petitions in Buckley's office, separate from where petitions are stored, and it was unclear whether they were ever counted. Davidson soon verified that there were sufficient signatures on the original petitions.

The state had made a serious error not counting the votes. Proponents say that exit polls conducted as people left the voting booths show the initiative would have passed. Because of Davidson's recount, the Colorado Supreme Court ordered the initiative be placed on this year's ballot. The medical marijuana question will appear as the first initiative on the Nov. 7 ballot as Amendment 20.

Only New Mexico has a medical marijuana question on the ballot in addition to our state. According to their law, initiatives have to be approved twice, unlike referendums that only have to be voted on once. The medical marijuana question passed easily in their state in 1998, but now must be voted on again in 2000.

If Colorado passes the medical marijuana initiative in November, it will be the ninth state to do so. Medical marijuana has never failed to pass when on the ballot. The issue has also never been placed on the ballot by elected officials. It has always been a result of citizen petitioning.

States that have passed medical marijuana laws are California, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Maine, Alaska and Washington, D.C.

A recent Rocky Mountain News poll showed 71 percent in favor.

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