A Cole County Circuit Court Judge Friday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to bar an initiative petition to legalize recreational marijuana from appearing on the November ballot.
A day after a three-hour hearing, Cole County Judge Cotton Walker determined Joy Sweeney, an anti-drug legalization activist who filed the lawsuit, lacked standing to sue because she hadn’t proven she was a Missouri citizen.
Despite dismissing the case over lack of standing, in his ruling Walker wrote that if he had decided the case its merits he would have sided with Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Legal Missouri, the campaign backing the initiative petition to legalize marijuana.
The initiative petition only contained a single subject and it had a valid number of signatures to appear on the ballot after a “legally authorized” review by Ashcroft’s office, Walker concluded.
Taylor White, an attorney for Sweeney, said they are planning to appeal the decision. The courts face a Sept. 13 deadline to determine whether the initiative petition will appear on the ballot.
The focus of Thursday’s three-hour hearing was on the unprecedented method Ashcroft’s office used to certify that the marijuana petition had enough signatures to appear on the ballot. Sweeney’s attorneys argued Ashcroft overstepped his legal authority by reviewing and validating signatures local election officials had marked as invalid. In his ruling, Walker disagreed.
Walker wrote that Ashcroft fulfilled his duties under state law, which are not intended to “force the secretary to rubber stamp the work of the (local election authorities), no matter how flawed, but to make sure the verification of signatures is correct and accurate.”
John Payne, Legal Missouri’s campaign manager, celebrated Walker’s ruling in a statement Friday, calling it “another step towards the historic passage of this citizen-led initiative to regulate, tax and legalize marijuana in Missouri.”
“We are thrilled that Missourians will have the opportunity to pass Amendment 3 in November, which will allow law enforcement to better focus on violent crime, while bringing millions in new revenue to Missouri,” Payne said.
Attorneys for Ashcroft and Legal Missouri argued Thursday that Sweeney lacked standing because she was not a Jefferson City resident as claimed.
They pointed to her job in Washington, D.C., where she serves as the deputy director of training, technical assistance and community outreach for Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, a group of community coalitions that aim to prevent substance use and abuse, and the fact that she owns a condo in Alexandria, Virginia.
“There has been no evidence showing that plaintiff Sweeney is actually a Missouri resident, and thus she would not have standing,” Jason Lewis, the attorney general office’s chief counsel for governmental affairs who defended the secretary of state’s office said during Thursday’s hearing. “She’s the only plaintiff in this case to bring this lawsuit.”
While Sweeney testified virtually from Virginia during Thursday’s hearing and answered questions regarding her Missouri residency, her testimony was taken after her attorneys had already rested their case.
Sweeney had testified that this year she spent a majority of her time in Missouri and also has a home and is registered to vote in Missouri.
This is a developing story and will be updated.