LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA: ERROR PUTS INITIATIVE IN JEOPARDY
Organizers Forgot to Turn in Box Containing 6,000 Signatures
An initiative seeking to legalize possession of up to 1 ounce of
marijuana in Nevada could go up in smoke.
Petition organizers last week announced that they had submitted
sufficient signatures to qualify the petition for the November ballot.
However, Billy Rogers, president of the political consulting firm
seeking to qualify the petition, subsequently discovered a box of
about 6,000 signatures that no one remembered to turn in.
Clark County Registrar Larry Lomax said Rogers contacted him by phone
Saturday asking whether he could turn in the box, which contains
signatures that were notarized before the June 15 deadline to submit
"He was pleading with me that they forgot to turn it in," Lomax said.
"Unfortunately, the state law says they have to turn it all in by June
The oversight does not necessarily spell doom for the petition, but
the mistake dramatically narrows the petition's margin for error.
The Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana must qualify in 13 of
the state's 17 counties to secure a spot on the November statewide
Each county requires a specific number of valid signatures.
Officials did a raw count and determined that marijuana petition
organizers filed a sufficient number of signatures in 14 counties.
However, officials must determine how many of those signatures are
"The record shows that, as a general rule, 70 percent of the
signatures turn out to be valid," said Steve George, spokesman for the
secretary of state's office. "The rest turn out to be duplicates or
people who aren't registered or people who aren't registered in that
In Clark County, organizers submitted about 35,000 signatures in
support of the marijuana petition. The minimum number of valid
signatures required to qualify for the November ballot is 31,360.
If the petition fails to qualify in Clark County, it would have to
pass muster in each of the other 13 counties validating signatures.
"They're pretty close in several other counties, and they're really
cutting it close," said Renee Parker, chief deputy secretary of state.
Jennifer Knight, spokeswoman for the Committee to Regulate and Control
Marijuana, deferred questions to Rogers.
Rogers would not comment Wednesday.
On Monday, he sent Lomax a letter saying the signatures that
organizers forgot to submit were notarized properly before the June 15
deadline, even though they were not discovered until Saturday.
"Your refusal to accept signatures gathered prior to June 15, 2004,
may disenfranchise voters who signed the petition prior to June 15,
2004," Rogers wrote. "It is our position that a remedy exists during
the raw count stage of the petition drive and during the verification
stage to accept the signatures and ensure that all who signed the
petitions are covered."
Rogers said the petitions in question are being stored in the law
offices of Ross Goodman, a son of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. Ross
Goodman was not available for comment Wednesday.
Rogers, who runs the Southwest Group, has said his petition drives
have a higher-than-average success rate because his paid petition
gatherers stress the accuracy of the signatures at the street level.
Rogers works for the Marijuana Policy Project, which is based in
Washington, D.C. The group lobbies state legislatures on issues such
as medical marijuana and marijuana legalization.
A spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project said he was aware of the
situation with the ballot qualification process in Nevada, but he
referred questions to Rogers.
"I don't have any relevant details," Bruce Mirken said. "It's
something obviously that we're interested in."
Nevada is still hyped nationally as being the first state with good
potential to legalize marijuana, in part because of the state's
liberal initiative petition laws and also because voters already have
approved the use of marijuana for medical reasons.
However, voters in 2002 overwhelmingly defeated an effort to legalize
up to 3 ounces of marijuana. The vote was 61 to 39 percent.
This year's petition seeks to amend the Nevada Constitution to
legalize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana sold, licensed and
regulated by the state. It also increases penalties for driving under
the influence of a controlled substance and for selling marijuana to
If it qualifies for the ballot, voters would have to approve it in
November and again in 2006 before it could take effect.