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Idaho group pushing for medical marijuana offers state ultimatum, threatens lawsuit

Bill Esbensen, spokesman for the coalition, told the Idaho Press last week he did not want to sue the state because he wanted to save taxpayers money.

BOISE, Idaho — An Idaho group working on a November initiative to legalize medical marijuana has threatened to sue the state later this week if officials don’t give the group more time to obtain the necessary signatures.

The Idaho Press reports that earlier this month, through its legal counsel, Givens Pursley in Boise, the Idaho Citizens Coalition sent a letter to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office asking for more time to gather electronic signatures for its proposed medical marijuana ballot initiative. Cancellations of events, such as Treefort Music Fest and Boise Hempfest due to the spread of the new coronavirus in Idaho, stymied the group’s efforts to obtain the requisite number of signatures to place the initiative on the ballot, it argued. The window to obtain those signatures ended on April 30. The coalition asked the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office for more time to gather those signatures electronically.

RELATED: Judge: State must allow Reclaim Idaho to collect signatures electronically; state appeals

The coalition pointed to a recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill in what the coalition says is a similar case, that of the group Reclaim Idaho. That organization is pushing for an “Invest in Idaho” ballot that initiative would generate $170 million per year for public schools by raising income taxes on the wealthy and corporations by 3%. Coronavirus cancellations and the governor's stay-home order also hindered Reclaim Idaho’s signature gathering efforts, and the state would not allow more time to gather signatures electronically. In June, Winmill ruled the state had to — and a panel of judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week denied the state’s appeal.

The Idaho Citizens Coalition’s first letter to Secretary of State Lawerence Denney's office referenced Winmill’s ruling and that the coalition wanted to avoid a lawsuit. According to the coalition, that letter went unanswered.

RELATED: Judge dismisses case challenging Idaho's initiative process

“The Coalition has been disappointed that the Office of the Secretary of State has not contacted it or responded to the letter in any way,” Bradley Dixon, of Givens Pursley, wrote in a second letter, dated Monday. “I write again, in hopes that this matter can be resolved appropriately.”

Bill Esbensen, spokesman for the coalition, told the Idaho Press last week he did not want to sue the state because he wanted to save taxpayers money.

The coalition’s second letter is shorter, but concludes that if the coalition “has not heard from the Office of the Secretary of State by Thursday, July 16, 2020, it will have no choice but to proceed with seeking relief with the District of Idaho.”

Deputy Secretary of State Jason Hancock told the Idaho Press on Tuesday he had not seen the second letter.

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