Saturday, September 07, 2002

Marijuana-initiative backers lose round

By Jim Brunner
Seattle Times staff reporter

A judge yesterday rejected a motion by backers of a Seattle pro-marijuana initiative to force the city to place it on the November ballot.

Backers of Initiative 75 had sued the city, claiming officials had erred in tossing out too many signatures and had failed to adhere to deadlines requiring speedy verification of the petitions.

But while King County Superior Court Judge James Doerty had questions on why some of the signatures were invalidated, he said it was not clear there were enough valid ones to warrant placing the measure on the ballot. Doerty also noted that because the lawsuit was against city officials, it had no authority over the county, which validates the signatures.

As a result, backers of the initiative are left to scramble to gather more signatures and are running out of time to guarantee a spot on the November ballot. Signatures have to be certified by the county by Sept. 20 for the measure to get on the Nov. 5 ballot.

I-75 would direct the police department to make marijuana offenses the "lowest priority" of Seattle police. It would also require the city to report all marijuana arrests to an 11-member panel that would report to the City Council.

Over the past several months, supporters submitted 29,626 signatures to the city, which turned them over to the county elections department for verification.

On Tuesday, Julie Anne Kempf, county elections superintendent, reported that at least 12,871 of those signatures had been found to be invalid.

Doerty said the county erred if it tossed out all instances of duplicate signatures. State law requires that the first signature be kept and the rest be invalidated.

Kempf said duplicate signatures were counted two ways: once where one duplicate signature was kept and the other where all duplicate signatures were tossed. She said even when some of the duplicate signatures were kept, the petition fell 357 signatures short of the 17,228 required to make the ballot.

Most of the invalid signatures were from people who didn't live in Seattle, didn't write down their address or whose names were illegible, she said. She said the measure's backers had gathered many signatures at festivals such as Hempfest and the Bite of Seattle, where many out-of-town voters signed them.

Initiative backers were left fuming. Attorney Patrick Brick said the failure to certify the petitions would lead to "wholesale disenfranchisement" of "every voter in the city of Seattle."

Doerty yesterday ordered the city clerk to send a report on the petition signatures to the City Council, which could choose to place the measure on the ballot.

Meanwhile, Dominic Holden, campaign manager for the Sensible Seattle Coalition, said supporters would continue to gather more signatures in the hopes of getting enough to qualify.

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company