Missouri Supreme Court will not hear appeal in case against marijuana legalization initiative
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Missouri stifled the last obstacle ahead of Amendment 3 and a vote for the legalization of adult use marijuana en route to the November 8 ballot, declining to hear a legal challenge to the certification of the initiative petition after a failed appeal.
Last week, a day after hearing arguments, Judge Cotton Walker dismissed the case brought by Joy Sweeney against the Secretary of State and the Legal Missouri 2022 campaign.
Judge Walker found that Sweeney had not proven her standing as a citizen in the state of Missouri and dismissed the case. However, Sweeney’s attorneys attempted to reopen evidence so Sweeney could testify about her standing to bring the challenge. While Judge Walker dismissed the case for lacking merit, he stated that the importance of the issue necessitated a finding of fact. Judge Walker wrote that the court found that Sweeney’s single issue challenge was not merited, as the initiative petition addressed only a single subject, further Judge Walker found that the campaign had collected a valid number of signatures to warrant an appearance on the ballot and that the Secretary of State’s office had acted within its authority in reviewing and validating collected signatures that were marked invalid by local election officials.
On Monday, a three-judge panel hearing the appeal called Judge Walker’s decision, “an abuse of discretion for the circuit court to refuse Sweeney’s request to reopen the evidence.”
“We therefore conclude that it was legally erroneous for the circuit court to grant the Rule 73.01(b) Motions, as in doing so, the circuit court ignored the plain language of section 116.200.1, and instead credited the Secretary’s and Proponent’s reliance on an incorrect legal standard for determining standing pursuant to 116.200.1. Because it was also (as we have explained) an abuse of discretion for the circuit court to refuse to reopen the evidence to accept Sweeney’s offer of proof testimony, it was error to enter Judgment against Sweeney on the merits by granting the Rule 73.01(b) Motions,” wrote Judge Cynthia Martin in the decision.
However, the panel agreed with the court’s findings regarding both the Single Subject Requirement and the validity of the signatures verified by the Secretary of State’s Office.
“Construing the Initiative Petition ‘liberally and non-restrictively,’ we conclude that the initiative’s multiple provisions all relate to a readily identifiable and reasonably narrow central purpose: decriminalizing the recreational use and possession of marijuana under certain circumstances. That the Initiative Petition does so both prospectively and retroactively is immaterial, as the central controlling purpose of the measure is served through both prospective and retroactive application of the measure,” wrote Judge Martin.
Addressing the second contention, Judge Martin wrote, “Sweeney seeks to limit the Secretary’s authority, and thereby ignore signatures which the Secretary has determined are valid, based on a negative implication. Sweeney’s contention is in direct and irreconcilable conflict with Boeving’s guidance that ‘in the absence of any clear and unambiguous statutory requirement invalidating signatures gathered on petition pages . . . the Court will not infer such a requirement.’ 496 S.W.3d at 507. In any event, the Supreme Court has made clear that expressio unius ‘is to be used with great caution,’ and only where ‘a strong contrast’ establishes that what was ‘omitted must have been intended for the opposite treatment’ compared to what is expressly stated in a statutory provision.”
“Separate from her claim that the Secretary was bound by local election authority determinations that a signature is invalid,” Judge Martin wrote, “Sweeney has not proven that any signature certified by the Secretary as valid was not, in fact, the signature of a registered voter.”
“Sweeney has thus failed to establish that an insufficient number of registered voters within at least six of Missouri’s eight Congressional Districts signed the Initiative Petition. Because the ultimate, determinative question is whether a sufficient number of registered voters within at least six of Missouri’s eight Congressional Districts signed the Initiative Petition as required by article III, section 50 of the Missouri Constitution, Sweeney’s challenge to the sufficiency of signatures fails.”
“The Judgment’s entry of judgment in favor of the Secretary and Proponent and against Sweeney on the merits of Sweeney’s substantive challenges to the Secretary’s certification of the Initiative
Petition as sufficient is affirmed. As such, the Secretary correctly certified the Initiative Petition as sufficient, and correctly directed that the Initiative Petition appear on the November 8, 2022 general election ballot.”
On Tuesday the Supreme court declined to hear the case, clearing the way for Missourians to vote on marijuana legalization in November.