Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Marijuana advocate resurrects legalization campaign

Davidson seeks referendum votes in valley?s municipalities

Express Staff Writer

Ryan Davidson

If pro-marijuana advocate Ryan Davidson has his way, puffs of smoke in the Wood River Valley will be from more than just wildfires.

Davidson, a Garden City man who formerly lived in Bellevue, is trying to resurrect his three-year old campaign to legalize marijuana in some of the valley's municipalities. Specifically, the cities of Sun Valley and Hailey are on his hit list.

Davidson has initiated steps to try to get the issue on the ballots in those cities, perhaps as early as the general elections on Nov. 6.

As chairman of a group called Liberty Lobby of Idaho, Davidson has been embroiled in on-and-off legal battles with three of the valley's municipalities for the past three years. The various lawsuits started after Davidson filed prospective petitions in August 2004 to initiate referendum votes on legalizing marijuana in the cities of Sun Valley, Hailey and Ketchum.

All three cities denied his petitions on the constitutionality of the issue. Hailey further declined to process his petition because Davidson was not a resident of Hailey, a requirement that Davidson expects to be struck down in federal court.

His drive to legalize marijuana was given new life in September 2006 when the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the city of Sun Valley did not have the right to determine the constitutionality of the issue, regardless of whether or not the proposed initiative appeared to be in violation of state or federal law.

The Supreme Court, in a precedent-setting decision, ruled that only the courts have the authority to determine the constitutionality of a referendum issue. However, if a referendum to legalize marijuana were passed in Idaho, it would likely be subject to litigation as it would be at odds with both state and federal law.

Nonetheless, with his Supreme Court victory in hand, Davidson formally requested on Aug. 24 that the city of Sun Valley certify his three-year-old petition. He got his certification a few days later in a letter from Sun Valley Assistant City Attorney Adam King.

Under Idaho's referendum process, an advocate for a referendum vote is required to file two separate petitions with the municipality in question. The first, referred to as prospective petition, requires the signatures of 20 registered voters in the municipality. A second petition, to actually get the issue on a ballot, requires the signatures of 20 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the municipality's last general election.

Davidson has been informed by King that his final petition needs the signatures of 118 registered Sun Valley voters. The number is 20 percent of the electorate who cast votes in November 2003, the last city general election prior to the filing of Davidson's prospective petition in 2004.

Davidson is uncertain whether he can get that many signatures in Sun Valley in time to make the Nov. 6 ballot, but Hailey is a different story.

His optimism is based upon the fact that only 85 registered voters, about 2.5 percent of the electorate, turned out for the uncontested Hailey city elections in November 2005. That would mean that Davidson needs only 17 signatures on his final petition.

In order to take advantage of the low signature requirement, Davidson said he will disregard his original prospective petition and file a new one.

He also needs a favorable ruling from U.S. District Court in Idaho, where he has challenged Hailey's residency requirement. A decision has not yet been issued, but Davidson filed a motion last week for a temporary restraining order that would force the city to accept his prospective petition even though he's not a resident.

Davidson is confident of a favorable ruling. Although he's not an attorney, Davidson has thoroughly researched the matter and in his motion cites considerable case law in which residency requirements have been struck down in other jurisdictions.

"I'm almost absolute that it will be on the ballot in Hailey," he said.

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