Author: "Radical" Russ

Spokesperson for the Idaho Cannabis Coalition.

IMMA Campaign Suspends for Coronavirus Pandemic

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Gov. Brad Little’s announcement of a 21-day shelter-in-place order and CDC recommendations for social distancing in effect for the month of April have caused the Idaho Cannabis Coalition to suspended our active campaign to gather signatures for the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act petition. As an all-volunteer effort, we were relying on every opportunity to gather the 55,057 statewide registered voters’ signatures needed by May 1 to qualify for the November ballot. With every major spring public event cancelled, we are now focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.

Our campaign, along with two other initiative petitions this cycle, had implored the legislature and governor to extend the deadline for signature gathering, or to provide an electronic means of collecting signatures, due to the coronavirus outbreak. Our pleas fell on deaf ears; however, the legislature passed and the governor signed into law an electronic means to remove signatures from an initiative petition.

Since our campaign is so volunteer-driven, we can’t provide a verifiable estimate of signature collection so far. The realities of verifying signatures (many signers who say they are registered voters turn out not to be) and Idaho’s extra hurdle of requiring a threshold of six percent of registered voters from a majority (18 of 35) legislative districts mean the odds are against Idahoans being able to vote on medical marijuana in November of 2020.

We are excited to see our fellow activists in places like Mississippi and South Dakota qualifying medical marijuana initiatives for their elections. However, should South Dakota pass its medical marijuana initiative, we are saddened by the thought that Idaho could then become the last political jurisdiction in all of North America to criminalize the possession and use any amount of THC by patients for medical purposes. 

Nevertheless, we will persist. If medical marijuana does not make the 2020 Idaho ballot, we will file immediately to begin the process of placing it on the 2022 ballot. The need for medical marijuana access for sick and disabled Idahoans is not going away, and neither are we.

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Sign the Petition – Leg 4

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We began the second half of the Sign the Petition Tour by making two stops in one county for the first time. First, we stopped in the county seat of Valley County in Cascade, but there were not many people willing to pull over and sign.

Chief Petitioner John Belville at the McCall Centennial Plaza

So we drove farther north to McCall, the resort town on beautiful Payette Lake. They have undergone a remarkable downtown renovation since my last days there in the 1990s as a working musician. Dad gathered signatures from the moment we stopped into Lardo’s Restaurant, a McCall mainstay. By the end of our visit, we had filled more than two petitions.

From there we headed north and across two important boundaries – the one for Pacific Time and the other for the 45th parallel. That means the sun sets at around 4:30pm, rendering our stop in Lewiston too dark to be useful. We postponed that stop to the morning and cancelled our stop in Orofino, which we have now added to next weekend’s tour.

Chief Petitioner John Belville in front of (literally) The Store in Nezperce, the smallest county seat in Idaho.

The Tour returns to the North Idaho Panhandle by way of Hell’s Canyon next week, with stops in Payette, Weiser, and Council in southwestern Idaho, then all the way up to Orofino, St. Maries, Wallace, Bonners Ferry, Coeur d’Alene, and Sandpoint in the panhandle.

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Sign the Petition – Leg 3

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Chief Petitioner John Belville returned to the land of his birth (Shelley, ID) for Leg 3 of the Sign the Petition Tour. With this trip to Blackfoot, Idaho Falls, Rigby, Rexburg, St. Anthony, Driggs, Dubois, and Arco, John has now visited over half (23) of the counties in Idaho!

Spokesman Russ Belville with Region VII Captain Nathaniel Snow-Pickering

The only difficult day we had was in Rexburg, where two city police officers parked across the street, down about half a block, but close enough where they could watch everybody who pulled in to sign the petition. We had many people drive by and give thumbs up, but they seemed to not want to stop and be watched by police in the hometown of BYU-Idaho.

Rexburg’s Finest, making sure no crimes occur while a 77-year-old man stands on a cold windy street corner gathering signatures on a petition.

Our trip to Idaho’s least populated county (Clark) landed us in the town of Dubois, where we had the lowest signature count of the tour. Just ONE person signed the petition… but that one person was a formerly-incarcerated person who believed she did not have the right to vote.

We explained to her that in Idaho once you’ve completed your felony probation and parole (i.e., “off papers”), your right to vote is automatically restored. She was thrilled, explaining how it has been over 20 years since she has voted. We registered her on the spot and she signed the petition.

Shortly after, we were visited by a Clark County Sheriff. He was cordial and made no attempt to stop our petitioning. He explained how he wanted it legal for medical use, but worried about how that would creep over into recreational use. I asked why a sick person using cannabis was OK, but someone using it for fun needs to be locked up. “It’s the law,” he shrugged. “Not for long,” I answered.

Russ and John with Teton County Lieutenant Dr. Daphne Stoner at the Teton Geotourism Center in Driggs
Marty Moose says, “Sign the Petition!”

The Sign the Petition Tour returns on the weekend of December 6-7-8, as John and Russ visit Cascade & McCall (Valley County), Grangeville (Idaho), Nezperce (Lewis), Lewiston (Nez Perce), Moscow (Latah), and Orofino (Clearwater). Check IdahoCann.co for times and places – some may have changed since you first looked!

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Sign the Petition – Leg 2

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Chief Petitioner John Belville has visited ONE-THIRD of Idaho’s counties (15) in two weekends, collecting hundreds of signatures for the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act.

Shout out to the go-getters in the IMMA Volunteer Army, like Dave Lybolt, our Region VI Captain, who hooked us up with TV media coverage for our stop in Pocatello (Bannock County) Saturday.

(L-R) Russ Belville, Dave Lybolt, John Belville

And welcome to Hannah Lee, who appeared on the scene in Montpelier (Bear Lake County) when we switched locations at the last moment. Having never been there, we didn’t realize the county seat of Paris wasn’t a good location for traffic. She rounded up a petition’s worth of signatures herself, then volunteered to take a Commando Packet and fill five more.

We’ve got the people on our side. What we need are more Daves and Hannahs, all across the state, in every county and good-sized town, dedicated to filling petitions with signatures of registered Idaho voters.

If you want to get involved, click the Volunteer link on the menu. That will get you subscribed to our IMMA Volunteer Army email and let you choose how you can donate some of your time to the cause.

We’ve gotten our campaign bank account, under the name IDAHO CITIZENS COALITION, because banks are still reticent to deal with the word “cannabis,” even as we assured them we are a civic organization and have nothing to do with actual cannabis being bought, sold, possessed, or used.

You can mail checks or money orders made out to IDAHO CITIZENS COALITION to our headquarters at the soon-to-open Boise Hemp World in the Northgate Shopping Center, 6928 W State St, Boise ID 83709. (We will be able to take online donations though our website, this Facebook page, and popular cash apps soon.)

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Sign the Petition – Leg 1

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The Sign the Petition Tour completed its first leg, visiting six counties in Region V (Blaine, Gooding, Jerome, Twin Falls, Lincoln, & Camas). Chief Petitioner John Belville met with volunteers at four of six locations and along with them collected 215 signatures.

We also collected signatures already gathered by the amazing activists in Region V. While they’re all deserving of praise, we’re taking this moment to recognize Tracie C., our Lieutenant for Blaine County.

Chief Petitioner John Belville with Blaine County Lt. Tracie

Tracie, all by herself, has collected over 700 signatures since August. She has posted five individual weeks with over 100 signatures gathered.

WE ARE CURRENTLY IN POSSESSION OF JUST OVER 11,000 NOTARIZED SIGNATURES STATEWIDE.

You may have heard other numbers bandied about, like 20,000 or 25,000. That represents the petitions we have out currently being worked on, but not yet notarized and turned in. As a wise man once said, “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Petitions still in your hands are still eggs, not chickens.

Chief Petitioner John Belville notarizing petitions gathered by Twin Falls activists, including Region V Cpt. Caitlin

So, if you have notarized signatures, we need to collect them. You can get them to your County Lieutenant or Regional Captain to forward to HQ. You can mail them yourself to HQ (1223 S Lizaso Ave, Boise, ID 83709). Or you can meet us on the Sign the Petition Tour (www.IdahoCann.co) and hand them over like Tracie and the other volunteers did.

This weekend, we’re in Mountain Home, Rupert, Burley (Friday), American Falls, Pocatello, Soda Springs (Saturday), Paris, Preston, and Malad City (Sunday).

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Idaho’s Petition Law is Unconstitutional

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On June 25, 2019, plaintiff John Belville turned in the signatures of 20 electors to declare his intent to submit an initiative petition to the Secretary of State’s Office for the purpose of amending state law regarding the medicinal use of cannabis. On August 9, 2019, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney certified the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act of 2020 for circulation.

According to the Idaho Constitution, Article III, Section 1, “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws… to be submitted to the vote of the people at a general election for their approval or rejection.” The Idaho Constitution empowers the legislature to determine the “conditions” and “manner” of determining how the people propose those laws, or initiatives. “The people” are understood to be Idaho electors with equal rights and power to propose those initiatives.

That is not the case under current Idaho law, however, where the right and power to propose and approve initiatives varies according to population density.

In the 20th century, the Idaho Legislature had enacted a law that imposed a geographic requirement as a condition of placing an initiative on the ballot – a petitioner had to gather six percent of the registered voters’ signatures from 22 of 44 Idaho counties – in addition to clearing a threshold of six percent of voters from the state as a whole.

In 2001, in the case Idaho Coalition United for Bears v. Cenarussa, the District Court found the geographic requirement to be in violation of the US Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of Equal Protection. Essentially, the court ruled that the geographic requirement created a disparity in the value of a voter’s signature between rural and urban voters, violating the precept of “one person, one vote.” 

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote, “Because over 60% of Idaho’s population resides in just 9 of the State’s 44 counties, it is easy to envision a situation where 3/4 of Idaho’s voters sign a petition but fail to get it on the ballot because they could not collect 6% of the vote in the rural counties.”

Judge Winmill’s decision was affirmed by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed “that this unequal treatment violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” and since then, the proportion of Idaho’s population living in urban counties has only increased. Today, almost sixty-three percent of Idahoans live in just six counties, and over thirty-five percent live in the Ada/Canyon County metro area where plaintiff Belville lives.

In 2013, the Idaho Legislature reinstated a geographic requirement with Senate Bill 1108. Instead of counties, however, the law now requires a six percent threshold of voters’ signatures be met in 18 of 35 legislative districts.

Plaintiff Belville is harmed by the current geographic requirement in much the same manner as the plaintiff in Idaho Coalition United for Bears v. Cenarussa almost two decades earlier. Plaintiff Belville is a 77-year-old disabled retiree on a fixed income, living in the most populous area of Idaho. Within a short drive, Plaintiff Belville can collect signatures in the 13 legislative districts that comprise Ada and Canyon Counties.

It is conceivable that Plaintiff Belville could collect signatures of six percent of the entire state’s registered voters without leaving his home area. However, under the current law, once Belville has collected six percent of each of the thirteen districts in those two counties, there is no benefit to collecting signatures there any longer.

This harms Plaintiff Belville by imposing a travel and expense requirement that wouldn’t otherwise be necessary. On November 9, 2019, Plaintiff Belville began a road tour of the state in order to pick up signatures from districts outside his home area.

The district requirement also harms Plaintiff Isbell and every other Idaho voter. If signatures for 13 districts can be gathered in Ada & Canyon counties, then 5 more districts can be gathered in just 4 more urban counties: Kootenai (Coeur d’Alene), Bonneville (Idaho Falls), Bannock (Pocatello), and Twin Falls, to meet the threshold of 18 of 35 legislative districts.

Signatures of less-populated rural districts (like the six-county, 24,215-square-mile District 8, for instance) are of no use to Plaintiff Belville, as the time and effort to drive to such remote outposts for the unlikely prospect of collecting six percent of the voters’ signatures there would not be feasible. Signatures of more-populated urban districts are of no use to Plaintiff Belville once he has collected the six percent needed there.

In either scenario, the right of an Idaho voter like Plaintiff Isbell to engage in his or her constitutional initiative petitioning right has been harmed where it would not be without the legislative district geographical requirement. A voter’s signature from the city of Boise would be just as valuable as a signature from Boise County, as either signature puts Plaintiff Belville one signature closer to six percent of the state’s registered voters.

Furthermore, the legislative district requirement subjects Plaintiff Belville’s petition to removal by opponents, who have a far easier method of removing signatures than Belville has of gathering them. While Belville is forced by the geographic requirement to tour the state to be physically present to witness signatures, opponents need only contact voters by phone, mail, or email, and ask them to strike their names from the petition.

Such a scenario was at the heart of a case in neighboring Utah. In Gallivan v. Walker, the Utah Supreme Court struck down a geographic signature gathering requirement. Proponents of an initiative had gathered the necessary threshold of signatures as required by law from 20 of 29 Utah counties. Opponents then ran a campaign to convince rural voters to strike their signatures. With lower thresholds in the rural counties, opponents were able to convince just a few thousand rural voters to strike their signatures, thus reducing the proponents to meeting the threshold in just 14 of 29 counties, even though the proponents had still met the overall statewide threshold.

In finding for the plaintiff that the geographic requirement was unconstitutional, the Utah Supreme Court found that “voters in the rural, sparsely populated counties have an effective veto in the initiative process simply by virtue of residing in the rural areas of the state.” It seems clear to Plaintiff Belville that the same unconstitutional veto power now exists within Idaho’s rural, sparsely populated legislative districts.

Finally, Plaintiff Belville is harmed additionally by the requirement in Idaho law that petition circulators must be Idaho residents. Due to Idaho’s laws prohibiting cannabis, many of Belville’s family and friends must reside just over the border in Oregon, where their medicinal use of cannabis is legal. Thus, many of the volunteers who could be assisting Belville in collecting those signatures from all areas of the state are barred from doing so.

Such a residency requirement has been overturned by federal courts in many other states, including Oklahoma (Yes on Term Limits v. Savage), Michigan (Bogaert v. Land), Arizona (Nader v. Brewer), Wisconsin (Frami v Ponto), and Colorado (Chandler v. City of Arvada and Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation).

We ask the court to consider these cases and Idaho’s previous geographical requirement, already judged unconstitutional, in finding that the current legislative district requirement and petitioner circulator residency requirement are unconstitutional violations of plaintiff John Belville’s Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of equal protection under the law; plaintiff Ryan Isbell’s right to vote found in the US Constitution; and both the Plaintiffs’ rights to vote and circulate petitions found in the Idaho Constitution.

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