The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act (MRTMA) allows an individual to submit a petition to initiate an ordinance allowing (or completely prohibiting) adult-use establishments in a municipality.

If you are interested in submitting an MRTMA ballot initiative in your municipality, it may be a good idea to consider drafting ordinance language, gathering signatures, and submitting a petition for the question to be on the local ballot for the upcoming November 2020 election.

Voter turnout is always higher during years where there is a presidential election, including those who are more likely to be pro-cannabis than not. Timing may mean everything in terms of whether a proposed cannabis-related petition is approved or rejected.

The Basic Requirements for a Petition

Under the MRTMA, a valid petition must be signed by qualified voters in the municipality in a number greater than five percent (5%) of the votes cast for governor during the last gubernatorial election (2018). There are certain legal requirements that must be followed to ensure that petition signatures are valid, including physical signatures that are witnessed by the individual who is circulating the petition.

Issues with Petitioning During COVID-19

During these unprecedented times of COVID-19, it may be extremely difficult to obtain the required number of signatures to get the issue placed on the November 2020 ballot. Additionally, the deadline to submit a petition with the required number of valid signatures is July 28, 2020.

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Normally, petitions would have already been circulated locally around neighborhoods and during public events in an attempt to gather as many signatures as possible. Due to the coronavirus, the numerous stay-at-home Executive Orders, and increased social distancing measures, obtaining physical signatures has been a near impossible task to accomplish. Only more recently have restrictions loosened up to allow the public to leave home in a greater capacity and additional businesses to open up with appropriate measures in place.

While signature gathering for a local petition may be considered protected activity under the First Amendment as long as appropriate safeguards are in place, violations of Michigan’s stay-at-home order have been deemed a misdemeanor. For those reasons, it is likely that even if local petitions have been in circulation in a municipality, there are fewer opportunities to obtain valid signatures in person.

Additionally, even if a person is willing to physically sign, he or she may be hesitant to do so using a pen that has been touched by an unknown number of people (regardless of whether or not the pen was properly cleaned in between uses). While there have been efforts in court to reduce the number of required signatures and allow for digital signatures on a petition during this global pandemic, the current requirements still apply.

In other words,  if you are seeking to submit a petition for the November 2020 election in Michigan, the physical signature/witness requirement applies.

Suggestions for Gathering Signatures during COVID-19

Since physical signatures are required, it will be important for anyone who is gathering signatures during COVID-19 to strictly follow the law, which includes any Executive Orders and other official guidance issued by the Governor, State of Michigan, or other applicable governing body.

The current situation with COVID-19 changes on a day-to-day basis, so new guidance could be released that is more or less likely to signature gathering. Be sure to keep as up-to-date as possible to ensure that your efforts do not violate the law and place everyone’s health at risk.

Due to social distancing and reduced public crowds, it will also be important to seek other methods of obtaining signatures. One alternative way to avoid unexpected in-person contact would be to advertise the initiative petition in an appropriate and legal manner through social media or other traditional methods. Then, include an invitation to reply if interested and willing to sign.

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The petition could then be brought to the individual’s home to be physically signed using appropriate social distancing measures. Similarly, petitions may still be circulated to the public from a safe distance, and writing instruments can be sterilized between signatures.

The Takeaway

While November 2020 may be a great time to place initiative petitions for adult-use establishments on local ballots in Michigan, there are greater difficulties in complying with the physical signature gathering requirement in light of the “new normal” and COVID-19. Unless the laws change to allow for digital signatures or other acceptable methods, individuals seeking to place a petition on the ballot in Michigan need to be creative, while also ensuring the health and safety of signature gatherers and residents alike.

If so, the hard work and extra precautions could pay off with an opt-in ordinance for adult-use establishments, due to the higher voter turnout that is expected in November 2020 in addition to the possibility of mail-in voting.

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Nickolas Galendez (20 Posts)

Nickolas Galendez is an associate attorney with the Cannabis Legal Group. Since joining the State Bar of Michigan in 2015, Nickolas has practiced medical marijuana law under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act and the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act. For over two years, Nickolas has gained significant experience related to preparing and filing applications for local and state licenses; property, land use, and zoning issues; as well as education and advocacy efforts.

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