Pot ban petition fizzles

Editor’s note: The story has been updated to clarify why the citizen group did not turn in signatures.

A citizen group seeking to ban by a vote commercial cannabis in Homer failed to deliver petition booklets by the June 23 deadline.

On March 25, petitioners seeking to prohibit by local option received signature booklets. They had 90 days to gather 309 signatures, or 25 percent of the people who voted in the October 2015 city election.

City Clerk Jo Johnson said June 27 that some petition sponsors had turned in books earlier, but she returned those books to the group, telling them to turn in all signatures collected in one batch. Some petition handlers also got signatures notarized at the clerk’s office.

By the deadline, no one in the group had turned in petitions.

When all the handlers submitted their packets, they found they had 263 signatures, said Heath Smith, one of the petition handlers and also a Homer City Council member. That was not enough to meet the threshold and they did not turn in petitions.

The failure of the group to submit enough signatures means commercial cannabis can proceed in city limits without fear of it being overturned in the October election.

Titled “An Initiative Petition for an Ordinance Prohibiting Marijuana Establishments in the City of Homer,” the group sought to put to the voters the question of if cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale of marijuana, also known as cannabis, would be banned in the city. Under Ballot Measure 2, the citizen initiative that legalizes personal, medicinal and commercial use of cannabis, local governments can through local option impose a ban on some or all commercial activities.

At its March 14 meeting, the Homer City Council approved by ordinance changes to the city zoning code regulating by zoning district commercial cannabis activities. Smith had introduced an ordinance banning by council action commercial cannabis. The ordinance failed when during the debate on the zoning changes, Homer Mayor Beth Wythe introduced an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would delay implementation of the commercial cannabis zoning changes pending a citizen vote.

However, Wythe’s attempt to put the question on the ballot also failed. That was when the petition group tried to get the question on the ballot through the initiative process.

The sponsors of the initiative were tourist industry businessman Chad Mathews and Tara Smith. Mathews said he had to withdraw from sponsoring the petition when he moved outside city limits.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.