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: 296745

Reported Deaths: 6783
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19774231
Hinds18916394
Harrison16850282
Rankin12823265
Jackson12700230
Lee9711162
Madison9499204
Jones8017148
Forrest7272138
Lauderdale6856227
Lowndes6051140
Lamar592081
Lafayette5761114
Washington5229130
Bolivar4626124
Oktibbeha442694
Panola433198
Pearl River4205132
Warren4143115
Pontotoc411071
Marshall405192
Monroe3994128
Union396674
Neshoba3836170
Lincoln3590104
Hancock351978
Leflore3394120
Sunflower319786
Tate303574
Pike301996
Scott295771
Alcorn292563
Yazoo291466
Itawamba290575
Coahoma282769
Tippah280065
Copiah279759
Simpson277180
Prentiss271258
Wayne254841
Leake253572
Marion252878
Covington249980
Grenada248778
Adams235378
George232445
Newton232252
Winston222179
Jasper213945
Tishomingo213065
Attala206871
Chickasaw201753
Holmes182770
Clay179351
Stone173129
Tallahatchie171739
Clarke170273
Calhoun158628
Smith153633
Yalobusha145636
Greene128133
Walthall124840
Noxubee123331
Montgomery123140
Perry122735
Lawrence120821
Carroll119325
Amite112435
Webster111132
Jefferson Davis102731
Tunica99624
Claiborne99029
Benton94024
Humphreys93128
Kemper90823
Quitman77414
Franklin76420
Choctaw69917
Jefferson62827
Wilkinson62527
Sharkey49217
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 498887

Reported Deaths: 10122
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson719121402
Mobile36328740
Madison32639469
Tuscaloosa24372421
Montgomery22765520
Shelby22231218
Baldwin19890289
Lee15057158
Calhoun13901294
Morgan13770255
Etowah13407325
Marshall11452213
Houston10130264
Elmore9499190
Limestone9429138
St. Clair9041227
Cullman8991183
Lauderdale8618214
DeKalb8507175
Talladega7628165
Walker6593259
Jackson6551104
Autauga633392
Blount6246128
Colbert6004121
Coffee5268104
Dale4676107
Russell407333
Franklin400078
Covington3998106
Chilton3902103
Escambia379273
Tallapoosa3631143
Clarke344553
Chambers3432111
Dallas3422142
Pike293273
Marion288595
Lawrence285386
Winston258568
Bibb245758
Marengo243057
Geneva240570
Pickens225557
Barbour213951
Hale212269
Fayette202257
Butler201766
Henry183641
Cherokee178140
Monroe166739
Randolph165140
Washington156836
Macon147745
Crenshaw146555
Clay146054
Cleburne139941
Lamar133933
Lowndes132851
Wilcox122825
Bullock117436
Conecuh107024
Perry106227
Sumter100432
Coosa90224
Greene88732
Choctaw55423
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