Missouri Capitol building in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Paul Sableman

The campaign to put a medical marijuana initiative on Missouri ballots in November fell just 23 signatures short, the Riverfront Times reports. The final ruling by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green upholds the decision by election authorities to invalidate hundreds of petition signatures that were collected on the wrong county form.

New Approach Missouri, the group behind the measure, submitted about 285,000 signatures by the May deadline, however Secretary of State Jason Kander threw out more than 10,000 of the signatures collected in the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Kander’s decision left the organization 2,242 signatures short of the 32,337 goal in the district, and sparked a lawsuit against Kander by the campaign.

In the suit, the Cole County Circuit Court ruled that 2,219 of the 2,242 signatures in question were, in fact, valid — but the campaign was still 23 votes short.

Lee Winters, the campaign’s president, says that the group has “several hundred” more signatures that show they met the threshold, but it’s unlikely they will be able to submit them into evidence because the court’s evidentiary deadline has passed. New Approach Missouri would also have to convince a judge that the state statute which invalidates signatures on the wrong county form is unconstitutional.

In addition to pushback from Kander, and Assistant District Attorney John Hirth, a group of prosecutors have also filed an affidavit to block the measure from ballots even if the advocates can overcome its current legal hurdles.

Winters, though, believes 2018 might present a better opportunity for medical marijuana in Missouri. Following the court’s decision, Winters apologized to the campaign’s supporters and thanked his team in a Facebook post.

“It is with an extremely heavy heart that I tell you all that our day in court has come and gone. Due to the judge’s ruling that signatures collected on the wrong county petition pages would not be accepted as valid we were found to be short of the minimum required number of signatures,” he wrote. “We are all still here and 2018 is right around the corner. This fight isn’t yet done, not by a long shot.”

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