New York's Marijuana Reform Party (http://www.marijuanareform.org) is two weeks into a six-week effort to gather enough signatures from registered voters for the party to gain status as a recognized political party that will appear on all New York election ballots for at least the next four years. The group has until August 20 to gather 50,000 signatures, and the shoestring effort could use some help, said MRP leader and gubernatorial candidate Tom Leighton.
"We have teams statewide, maybe 50 or 60 people altogether, out gathering signatures," Leighton told DRCNet, "but we need help. Contact us to help gather signatures or to send money. Time goes by quickly and we only have a month left," said Leighton.
While the rule of thumb for gathering voter signatures is to aim to exceed the required number by 50% in order to account for invalid signatures, the MRP is seeking to double the number of signatures it collects. "We face a certain challenge from the New York Green Party," said Leighton, citing previous efforts by Greens to challenge the MRP's signatures and ballot status. "If we can double the number, maybe they won't bother to challenge because they will see it won't matter."
Leighton told DRCNet that financial support for the MRP within the drug reform movement was nil. "We haven't received one ounce or penny of support from the national drug reform movement," Leighton lamented, "nor much interest. And that is a shame, because a small injection of money here could be a big step for the movement. What we're doing doesn't cost near as much as what an initiative does -- you could bring New York in for a pittance -- and you could get a drug reform party on the ballot, gaining more and more votes, moving forward and actually effecting change," said Leighton.
Leighton argues that a small, single-issue party makes sense in the context of New York's electoral laws, which allows candidates to be listed by more than one party and the votes from different parties tallied together to craft a winning margin. Under this unique electoral scheme, third or minor parties have provided a margin of victory for candidates in several recent elections. As a result, small parties can assume the role of courted partner and sometimes even kingmaker in state elections.
"There is a role for minor parties in New York," said Leighton. "I came to this as an electoral activist, and the MRP is serious political party. We're not here to waste our time on a futile exercise." One tack the MRP is taking this year is broadening its base by making repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws one of its two primary projects. The other is medical marijuana in New York City. "By campaigning on the Rockefeller laws and medical marijuana, we are hoping to make this a sort of popular referendum. A vote for us is a vote for medical marijuana and/or a vote for Rocky repeal," said Leighton.
"Although we have a marijuana leaf as our symbol, we're not only interested in ending marijuana prohibition. We oppose the criminal justice approach to drugs; public health is the way to go. With the MRP we can create a political party that is a base for all sorts of drug reform," said Leighton.
The MRP has only a month left in its signature gathering campaign. By August 21, we will know whether Leighton's low-budget, all-volunteer effort will have been enough.