Recently we reported on an announcement made by Jeremy Bufford, the owner of a Florida-based “medical marijuana school” called Medical Marijuana United, who came to Mississippi offering to pay for signatures on a petition to get full marijuana legalization on the statewide ballot.
To recap Bufford’s offer, which he detailed during a 30 minute press conference in March (the video has since been removed from YouTube), he promised to pay individual volunteers $1 for every certified signature they were able to obtain (up to $2 for certain regions), and he went on to guarantee a “minimum $30,000 grand prize” to the group of volunteers that collected the most signatures as a group.
Last week we received an email from a volunteer in the Mississippi campaign telling us that Bufford had withdrawn his support and stated that he would no longer be paying volunteers for petition signatures. I contacted Kelly Jacobs, the author and sponsor of Ballot Initiative 48 to see if she had anymore information about what was going on and she confirmed the anonymous email we had received. “I was on vacation and was shocked to receive an email from Jeremy saying he wouldn’t be paying” Jacobs said. “The last time I spoke to him he said ‘Go have a wonderful vacation, you have earned it!’, and that was just a few days before I got the email.”. Mrs. Jacobs forwarded Bufford’s parting email to us, which is copied below.
I have some disturbing news to share. Unfortunately, I received a threat this morning asking me to stop paying signature gatherers. After consulting with law enforcement and my attorneys, I have decided to withdraw my plans for Mississippi, effective immediately. I want to see marijuana reform passed as much as you all do, but I am not willing to endanger my family to do so. I have received idle threats in the past, and this wasn’t one of them. I am disgusted with the fact that some people are very much against this initiative, and I apologize to each and everyone of you for getting your hopes up with the pay-per-signature pledge. I will be refunding all of the donations I have received after I return to my family and will be leaving Mississippi, for good, in the next few hours. Please do not share the contents of this message except to say that I won’t be able to pay for any more signatures. I wish all of you the best luck in your efforts to pass prop 48. I won’t be commenting on this or responding to anymore messages from Mississippi, as I was asked to ‘break all ties’ with everyone I met, and although it is difficult, I want to be safe. Please understand I don’t do this willingly. This is your fight now.
Beyond what Bufford included in the email, Jacobs said, she didn’t have the foggiest idea what sort of threats he could be referring to, and as far as she knew everything was just fine between the campaign and Bufford before she left for vacation. “Before I left he (Bufford) had 50,000 of the ballot initiative petitions printed so I didn’t have to worry about making anymore copies. I considered this a gift, since I had spent so much money on the campaign, and I really appreciated it.”
Could there be legal issues?
When Bufford first announced his intention to pay for petition signatures he cited Mississippi case law which, according to him, makes it legal for someone to pay volunteers for each signature collected. But according to Mrs. Jacobs there could be legal problems headed for Mr. Bufford as well. She said that a day or two after receiving the email from Bufford she received a call from an investigator in the Mississippi Attorney General’s office, stating that a complaint had been made against her and the campaign following Bufford’s announcement that he was withdrawing. It is unknown whether an official investigation has been launched by the AG or not, but there is no question that his decision not to pay has rubbed quite a few people the wrong way.
In reviewing Bufford’s announcement, which requires wading through vague innuendo so thick it that it feels more like a Facebook rant than an explanation (or an apology), there is one sentence that might stick out like a sore thumb to campaign organizers and volunteers, who have had to pay nearly all of the expenses for the campaign out of their own pockets. “I will be refunding all of the donations I have received after I return to my family and will be leaving Mississippi, for good, in the next few hours.” I asked Mrs. Jacobs if she was aware that Bufford had been soliciting or accepting donations and she said no. “I didn’t know anyone was donating to him.”
Some got paid, most probably won’t
Under the original rules of Jeremy Bufford’s pay-per-signature initiative, which have since been scrubbed from his website, there was a requirement that the measure actually make it to the ballot before he would have to pay anyone. At some point, according to Jacobs, he changed that requirement after coming under intense pressure from volunteers and made payments to an unknown number of recipients. Mrs. Jacobs says she spoke with a reporter, who told her Bufford claimed to have made at least $10,000 in payments for petition signatures, but she said has no way to know for sure just how many volunteers were paid and how many were not.
We reached out to Mr. Bufford to see if he wanted to elaborate on his email or the threats he claims to have received but we assume the answer is no, since we have not yet received a return phone call from him. We are continuing to investigate, however, in an attempt to locate records of the threats that Bufford says he reported to police, and we are also trying to obtain copies of Mr. Bufford’s Mississippi campaign disclosure forms to try to piece together how much money he actually spent. If you have information you want to share please contact us.