Volunteers with the group New Approach Idaho have spent several months gathering signatures to put medical marijuana legalization on the ballot in November. Now, with less than two months until the deadline, the group’s president has canceled the petition.
Bill Esbensen says he received a letter from a national pediatric organization that had been listed on the petition as supporters of medical marijuana. The group asked that its name be removed. Esbensen says New Approach leadership had been considering pulling the petition anyway because it wasn’t written well enough.
“After I showed everything to my lawyer, he’s like, ‘just pull it,” Esbensen says. “Pull it, rewrite it and re-file it. That’s all we can do.’”
Elisha Figueroa, head of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy, says in a written statement that she’s pleased the petition was withdrawn.
“It’s unfortunate that pro-marijuana groups such as New Approach Idaho believe they can mislead, manipulate and outright lie to Idaho voters in an effort to gain signatures on their ballot initiative and I applaud the American Academy of Pediatrics for holding them accountable for their actions,” Figueroa says.
Esbensen says it was an honest mistake. He writes in an email,
“The oversight was not intentional, rather a misunderstanding after members of NAI's petition draft committee were alerted to the much-publicized January 2015 articles in the Wall Street Journal and NBC News online that ‘...the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reclassify marijuana so that more research can be conducted in the hopes of finding benefits for children,’” Esbensen writes.
He goes on to say his organization should have been more diligent in fact-checking the claim but says the state should also have verified the claims before allowing the petition to be released.
Esbensen says New Approach could change the petition and re-file it this year, but the group was not going to get enough signatures anyway, though he says they’d gathered more than any previous pot petition in Idaho.
Esbensen says his group will start over with an effort to get medical marijuana legalization on the state’s 2018 November ballot. He thinks pulling the petition will have a positive effect on the volunteer base.
“At first there were some angry people but they came back around and said you know what we understand, let’s push this harder,” Esbensen says. “Those were people we were already working with. But it’s brought other people out of the woodwork, now they know that hey, we need their help too.”
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