Organizers of a grassroots campaign to put a medical marijuana referendum before Napa voters said Monday that they had failed.
With considerable fanfare, backers of the referendum submitted more than 5,000 petition signatures to City Hall on Jan. 15. If 3,852 signatures — 10 percent of registered voters — were proved valid, voters would have been given the chance to undo the City Council’s December 2013 repeal of a never-implemented 2010 ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.
As it turned out, only 2,000 or so signatures meet the legal tests for validity, Laura Dayton, a petition organizer, said Monday afternoon.
“Too many citizens fell into the categories of not being registered voters, or not having renewed their voter registration address, and their petitions were discounted, leading city clerk Dorothy Roberts to declare the petition ‘insufficient, and no further action will be taken on (it),’” petitioners said in a press release.
“We were shocked,” petitioner Max Harpel said in a statement. “Standing in parking lots day after day we got to know so many people. The 'thank yous' and 'thumbs up' signs kept us confident we had the public's support.”
A little more than 40 percent of the signatures met the legal tests applied by the Napa County registrar of voter’s office, Dayton said.
Based on a sampling of 500 signatures, the county estimated the petitions contained 2,070 valid names, she said. This was short almost 2,000 signatures.
Signatures were considered valid only if the signers were registered city voters and their current addresses matched up with their addresses at the county elections office, Dayton said.
Nearly a quarter of signers lived outside the city of Napa, but within Napa County. “They think of themselves as Napa residents,” she said.
Perhaps another 25 percent lived in Napa and had registered to vote in Napa, but had moved without updating their addresses at the elections office, Dayton said.
Even as the petitions were being turned into City Hall, supporters sensed they might have a problem, Dayton said.
Signature gathering, which had to occur within a 30-day period, had suffered because it overlapped the Christmas holidays when people had other things on their minds, and because there was only a core of five “solid” volunteers, assisted by a half dozen others on a sporadic basis, Dayton said.
“We didn’t have enough manpower,” she said.
Organizers will now step back and consider their options, Dayton said.
The council voted 3-2 in December 2013 to scrap the city’s medical marijuana ordinance rather than risk federal prosecution. Some also worried about greater marijuana access for youth.
Councilmen Peter Mott and Scott Sedgley opposed repeal, saying that Napa’s dispensary would be highly controlled and meet a local need.
If one of the three votes for repeal — Mayor Jill Techel, Councilman Alfredo Pedroza or Councilwoman Juliana Inman — were to have a change of mind, a dispensary could open, Dayton said.
The Napa Compassionate Referendum Committee is considering the possibilities of bringing a countywide initiative before the voters. An initiative would give the committee 180 days to collect signatures and to draft another ordinance, according to the group’s press release.
Local backers will be conferring with NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), an organization that is working to legalize marijuana nationally, about getting their support for a countywide initiative, Dayton said.
Organizers of the referendum effort probably spent no more than $600, Dayton said.
As things now stand, someone who wants to acquire medical marijuana legally generally has to leave Napa County for dispensaries in Solano or Alameda counties, she said.
“Eventually Napa will have a dispensary,” Dayton said. “We’re a pro-pot community, I think.”