Last weekend, police in St. Charles, Missouri, detained and cited two people simply for gathering signatures on public sidewalks in support of a ballot initiative that would allow voters to decide whether to legalize marijuana and regulate it in a manner similar to the way alcohol or tobacco are regulated. At the time, the officers claimed that the petitioners were unlawfully “soliciting without a permit,” and they actually confiscated some of the petitions.
Gathering signatures in support of a ballot initiative is not just an exercise of the freedom of speech, it is also central to the right to petition our government to change laws that we find oppressive, unjust, or unwise. Both of these rights are protected by the First Amendment, especially when (as was the case in St. Charles) they take place on public sidewalks. Governments cannot be permitted to impede citizens’ ability to share information about matters of public interest, and they must not be allowed to prevent citizens from petitioning in support of changes to the law.
The Freedom Center of Missouri has asked St. Charles officials to rectify this situation by dropping the charges against these petitioners, publicly acknowledging that the First Amendment protects citizens’ rights to speak and gather signatures on public sidewalks, and destroying all electronic or hard copies of the petitions the City unlawfully confiscated in order to ensure that those who signed the petitions will not face retribution from the police. In the meantime, the Show-Me Cannabis Regulation campaign intends to demonstrate in support of their rights tonight at 9:30 by gathering more signatures on the public sidewalks in St. Charles. It is the Freedom Center’s hope that city officials will not engage in further violations of the First Amendment – but we are ready to act if they do.
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