A longstanding legal dispute between the city of Sun Valley and a Bellevue-based group trying to legalize marijuana could come to a climax at the end of this month.
After a series of legal maneuvers in the last two months, the Liberty Lobby of Idaho and a city attorney have asked that the 5th District Court rule on whether the city must process an initiative petition that seeks a special vote on the pot-legalization issue. The court has scheduled a hearing on the matter for Monday, Feb. 28.
Although the Feb. 28 hearing is designed to bring the dispute to a close, it is anticipated the case will end up in the Idaho Supreme Court.
At issue are two competing lawsuits that surfaced last September.
First, the Liberty Lobby filed suit against Sun Valley City Clerk Janis Wright because she had declined to process the organization's petition to have citizens vote on whether it should be legal to grow, possess, use and distribute marijuana in the city, under certain restrictions.
The Liberty Lobby filed an initiative petition Aug. 25, the same day it filed similar petitions in the cities of Ketchum and Hailey.
In its suit, the Liberty Lobby alleged that the city did not follow established procedures for processing citizen-led ballot initiatives.
Soon after, Sun Valley City Attorney Rand Peebles filed a countersuit against the Liberty Lobby. The city complaint contended that the organization's proposal to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana is "unconstitutional" and to hold an election on the issue "would be in excess of the city's jurisdiction."
State law declares that possession of three ounces or more of marijuana is a felony that can bring five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Eventually, the 5th District Court decided to consolidate the two competing lawsuits.
Ryan Davidson, chairman of the Liberty Lobby, in November asked the court to reconsider the decision to consolidate the cses. He argued that the court must determine whether the city followed mandated procedures for handling initiatives before it sought to determine whether it is unconstitutional for a city to put the pot-legalization question to voters.
At the same time, Davidson argued that the city's lawsuit should be dismissed, primarily because the state Supreme Court, not the city or the district court, has the authority to handle matters of constitutionality.
Both motions were denied and the two parties have since asked the court to render a "summary judgment" on the dispute. In essence, the parties have agreed there is no disagreement over the facts of the case and the court should issue a definitive ruling.
In theory, if the city can establish that the initiative is unconstitutional, the Liberty Lobby's argument that the city failed to follow initiative procedures could be rendered moot.
This week, Adam King, acting attorney for Sun Valley, said the city's position remains that it would be "clearly and patently unconstitutional" to advance the Liberty Lobby's proposed initiative.
"The city can't make laws that are in conflict with the general laws of the state," King said.
Davidson holds otherwise. In a memorandum submitted to the court earlier this month, he again argued that the city did not have the authority to deny processing of his initiative.
"Can a city violate its own ordinances with impunity?" he asked in the memo.
King said that no matter what decision the 5th District Court renders, the case will almost certainly not end there.
"Each party has made it clear that if they lose they will appeal to the Supreme Court."