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A group called Charleston Can’t Wait collected 3,000 signatures in time to get a cannabis decriminalization measure on the ballot.
But voters might have noticed it wasn’t there.
Katey Lauer, co-chair of West Virginia Can’t Wait, a statewide organization that’s involved, said the effort hit an administrative hurdle.
The City of Charleston and Kanawha County were prepared to accept the signatures. However, if not enough of them could be verified, they would all be thrown out. The effort would be back at square one.
“And we didn’t want to take our chances,” Lauer said. “We thought, well if we’ve got this many, we want to hold on to them and make sure this work pays off. And we can really represent the will of all the people who signed their signatures in the first place.”
So the group held back to gather more signatures and verify them using a software program it purchased. That can help eliminate the ones that don’t count: people who put down the address of the house they grew up in, or an old apartment. People who said they live in Charleston but actually live somewhere else.
“We’re in a tricky moment where we have plenty of signatures,” Lauer said, “and we want to make sure those signatures actually get counted.”
The group may be able to get enough signatures to call for a special election on the issue. It isn’t clear when that would happen, or who would pay for it.
The other option would be to wait until the next municipal election. But that’s not for another four years. And the signatures have to be valid four years from now.
“I don’t think there’s any question, is there will in the city to get it on the ballot,” Lauer said. “The question is, can we hit that tricky administrative window the city and county have set up?”
Lauer said her group had volunteers collecting signatures at about half the city’s wards Tuesday.
The ballot measure would eliminate fines, court fees and jail time for simple cannabis possession, which is now a misdemeanor. It would not apply to dealing cannabis or possessing large quantities of it.
“And so if you were found to have a small amount of cannabis in your vehicle or on your person,” she said, “there would be no repercussions for that.”
Lauer said she’d seen a lot of enthusiasm for the effort and that the issue seems to transcend partisan and generational divides.
“I don’t think this is the kind of issue you can really profile people on,” she said. “I’ll walk up to someone who I think at first glance might not be for this, and they might be the most enthusiastic supporter I’ve talked to all day.”
Voters in Charleston are likely to get a say on cannabis – it just wasn’t in this election.