Bay area man issued citation while petitioning for medical marijuana

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. - A Tampa Bay Area man says his constitutional rights were violated after he was issued a citation while trying to get a petition signed for medical marijuana.

It happened last month in St. Pete Beach.

Greg Matheson says he was standing on the sidewalk along Corey Avenue Saturday, Dec. 7 asking people to sign a petition that would put medical marijuana on the ballot.

At the time, the street was closed down and vendors were set up for a craft fair.

Matheson said someone confronted him about what he was doing and that's when the sheriff's office got involved. He was given a $193 citation saying he violated a city ordinance requiring him to get a permit before petitioning.

"To me, it's very, very simple. I don't have to ask the government to petition that government for a redress of grievance," Matheson said.

The ordinance says: "It shall be unlawful for any person to solicit to express opinions, views or beliefs within the corporate limits without first procuring a written permit from the city licensing official…"

Matheson said deputies gave him a verbal warning but he believed so strongly in what he was doing, he told them to write him a ticket and he would take it to the next level.

Jeff Swartz, a law professor at Thomas Cooley Law School, thinks Matheson has a case.

"It would appear to me from looking at the way it was written, it would interfere with your first amendment rights," Swartz said.

Swartz says the ordinance is too broad and prevents anyone from asking someone else their opinion on any topic even in their own front yard.

"According to this as I'm looking at it, if he's standing in front of his own house talking to people who walk by, he would need a permit to be able to ask them to sign the petition," said Swartz.

The St. Pete Beach City Manager, Michael Bonfield, said generally the ordinance is designed for commercial use purposes.

Matheson is due in court Thursday morning.

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