A judge determined Aug. 24 that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear a lawsuit brought against Loveland, Colo., City Clerk Patti Garcia by supporters of a petition for a ballot initiative to allow cannabis dispensaries in the city, but the city clerk’s office has agreed to accept additional signatures collected during the initial 90-day period allotted for signature gathering.
Loveland does not allow cannabis retailers within its borders, which prompted petitioners to propose a November ballot initiative that would let voters to decide whether to allow the regulation and sale of cannabis in the city.
Petitioners had 90 days to collect a minimum of 2,888 valid signatures from registered electors to place the issue before voters, and the lawsuit arose following allegations that Garcia provided misinformation to the petition representatives.
“The clerk was giving confusing deadlines of when signatures could be collected, how long they had to collect the signatures, and then she summarily cut short the window in which they had to collect the signatures,” said Michael Dailey, senior counsel with Greenspoon Marder, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case.
Petition representatives can drop signatures off to the city clerk in batches, he said, and Garcia allegedly took one of the batches and counted it as the final batch without petitioners indicating that it was indeed the final batch.
“At that point, she said, ‘Well, I have this batch, this is the last batch, and no, you don’t have enough signatures,’” Dailey said. “She’s obviously arguing that she took the last batch she received to be the final batch, but the record really doesn’t clearly indicate that.”
The plaintiffs argued that the clerk’s decision to stop the signature collection process early, before the 90 days were up, was detrimental to their efforts. The clerk validated 2,143 signatures out of the 3,589 submitted when she halted signature gathering, according to a Loveland Reporter-Herald report.
“She counted all the signatures and said there weren’t enough, but she didn’t recognize that we still had more time to collect the signatures,” Dailey said. “It was a very bizarre process that she used in the sense that it didn’t really make sense why she stopped collecting signatures.”
Since the lawsuit was filed, Loveland has agreed to accept additional signatures that were collected during the 90-day period, and those signatures are currently being counted. In the Aug. 24 hearing, the court found that it did not have the jurisdiction to order additional days to collect signatures, since the city had already agreed to accept additional signatures that were gathered.
“The issue that we have, though, is that the plaintiffs didn’t really use the time—the entire 90-day window—to continue to collect signatures because during that time, in mid-July, … the plaintiffs reached out to her to say, ‘Hey, we have more signatures,’ and she said, ‘No, I’m not accepting any more.’ So, they ramped down their efforts and that had a detrimental impact,” Dailey said.
The case is still ongoing, he added, as the plaintiffs wait to see how many signatures are ultimately validated. A final count is expected this week, according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald.
“It’s possible [that it might still make the ballot],” Dailey said. “We have to wait until the office finishes its count, and then [when] we get the findings of that process, we’ll examine if we have additional remedies at that point. … We appreciate the city acknowledging the additional signatures, but the issue is, … because of the actions, we didn’t really utilize the 90-day window.”
If the petition falls short on signatures to qualify for the November ballot, petitioners would have to draft a new initiative for the next election cycle, and all signatures would have to be re-collected at that time, Dailey said.
“I think it’s an unfortunate reality where you have to bring a suit in order to prompt the city to allow more signatures that are mandated per the [city’s] charter, but I do hope that as we move forward, this litigation serves as a reminder of city officials’ obligations, not only in Loveland, but just generally speaking,” he said. “I do hope that the threat of legal action prompts cities to understand what they can and cannot do, and they’ll act accordingly."