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Analysis: Lawsuit threatens Mississippi medical marijuana

A court fight threatens to block a Mississippi medical marijuana program before the program even gets started.

Posted: Dec 13, 2020 6:43 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A court fight threatens to block a Mississippi medical marijuana program before the program even gets started.

Voters on Nov. 3 approved a medical marijuana initiative by a wide margin — about 58%, according to certified results. The initiative amends the state constitution, requiring the Health Department to set regulations and begin the program by mid-2021.

Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler opposed Initiative 65 because it limits cities’ ability to regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses. The Republican mayor sued the state days before the election, arguing that the initiative was not properly on the ballot because of the number of signatures gathered.

The Mississippi Supreme Court told attorneys for both sides of the lawsuit to submit written arguments.

In a Dec. 8 filing, Butler's attorneys asked justices to declare that Initiative 65 is invalid, even though it has been approved by voters. The attorneys argued that if justices do that, legislators could still “heed the will of the majority” and enact a state law to create a medical marijuana program.

State attorneys defending the medical marijuana initiative have a Dec. 28 deadline to file arguments in response.

Here's the central issue: Section 273 of the Mississippi Constitution creates the initiative process, and it says initiative sponsors have one year to gather signatures from registered voters. It specifies that no more than one-fifth of the signatures may come from any congressional district. Mississippi had five congressional districts when that process was written in the early 1990s. The state dropped to four districts after the 2000 Census, but the language in the constitution remained.

Butler argues that the constitution creates a mathematical impossibility: With four districts, more than one-fifth of the signatures must come from each.

The state attorney general’s office issued a legal opinion in 2009 saying that initiative sponsors should collect signatures from the five districts used in the 1990s. In September 2019, then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said the medical marijuana initiative qualified for the ballot because petition sponsors had enough signatures from each of the five old districts.

In their Dec. 8 filing, Butler's attorneys made an argument about the separation of executive and legislative powers in state government. They said legislators have known for years about the problem in the initiative process but have killed multiple proposals to fix it. The attorneys said the secretary of state should not have relied on an attorney general's opinion about signatures coming from the five outdated congressional districts — that's one executive-branch agency listening to another, when decisions should be made by the legislative branch.

“It simply is not the role of the Secretary of State or the Attorney General to amend the Constitution when the Legislature fails to act," Butler's attorneys wrote.

In 2011, Mississippi voters approved two other initiatives that landed on the ballot under the attorney general's guidance. Sponsors gathered signatures from the five old congressional districts after the state had only four districts.

Initiative 27 requires voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls. Initiative 31 restricts governments from using the eminent domain process to take land for private developments.

Supporters of medical marijuana say Butler waited too long to challenge Initiative 65. Butler's attorneys say their complaint was filed on time, but they also say the legal principle that requires a timely challenge could protect voter ID and eminent domain if the Supreme Court invalidates the medical marijuana initiative.

“For Voter ID, the State has spent significant resources implementing its requirements, and countless elections have taken place since its enactment,” Butler's attorneys wrote. "For Eminent Domain, the State has structured its takings over the last nine years to comply. ... The existence of these two other voter-initiative amendments is no bar to the Court’s review of this challenge to the sufficiency of the Initiative Measure No. 65 petition.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 500286

Reported Deaths: 9968
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34281537
DeSoto32039402
Hinds31911626
Jackson24466379
Rankin21971390
Lee15501235
Madison14566279
Jones13825242
Forrest13438250
Lauderdale11984316
Lowndes11003188
Lamar10510135
Pearl River9494237
Lafayette8542139
Hancock7727126
Washington7418157
Oktibbeha7139131
Monroe6765176
Warren6679176
Pontotoc6655102
Neshoba6625206
Panola6511131
Marshall6460134
Bolivar6302148
Union601294
Pike5815152
Alcorn5662101
Lincoln5431134
George496579
Scott472198
Tippah468381
Prentiss466581
Leflore4654144
Itawamba4628105
Adams4584119
Tate4579109
Copiah447792
Simpson4440116
Yazoo443687
Wayne439172
Covington428694
Sunflower4235105
Marion4225107
Coahoma4154104
Leake408088
Newton381679
Grenada3703108
Stone359764
Tishomingo359492
Attala331089
Jasper329565
Winston314091
Clay307676
Chickasaw299467
Clarke292194
Calhoun278945
Holmes267887
Smith263350
Yalobusha233347
Tallahatchie226851
Walthall218763
Greene218248
Lawrence212440
Perry205256
Amite204755
Webster202646
Noxubee186440
Montgomery179456
Jefferson Davis171442
Carroll168738
Tunica159439
Benton148438
Kemper141941
Choctaw133326
Claiborne132237
Humphreys129238
Franklin119428
Quitman106428
Wilkinson104839
Jefferson94434
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 815989

Reported Deaths: 15311
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1144621915
Mobile723961330
Madison52114694
Shelby37488348
Baldwin37167547
Tuscaloosa35013606
Montgomery34031734
Lee23177245
Calhoun22190476
Morgan20719376
Etowah19774497
Marshall18277302
Houston17333411
St. Clair15967339
Cullman15365292
Limestone15270198
Elmore15126284
Lauderdale14205294
Talladega13783276
DeKalb12598260
Walker11142369
Blount10132175
Autauga9910146
Jackson9819182
Coffee9190191
Dale8874185
Colbert8803201
Tallapoosa7063198
Escambia6755130
Covington6695184
Chilton6608161
Russell626659
Franklin5947105
Chambers5563142
Marion4966126
Dallas4902200
Clarke474083
Pike4722105
Geneva4567126
Winston4493103
Lawrence4286117
Bibb423686
Barbour356576
Marengo337489
Monroe330863
Randolph328263
Butler325396
Pickens314182
Henry311865
Hale310688
Cherokee301660
Fayette291379
Washington251151
Cleburne247160
Crenshaw244075
Clay241268
Macon231763
Lamar219547
Conecuh185753
Coosa179439
Lowndes174464
Wilcox167839
Bullock151644
Perry138440
Sumter132038
Greene126244
Choctaw87827
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