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: 319948

Reported Deaths: 7371
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22285267
Hinds20719421
Harrison18431317
Rankin13901282
Jackson13718248
Madison10263224
Lee10059176
Jones8467167
Forrest7832153
Lauderdale7261242
Lowndes6517150
Lamar635188
Lafayette6313121
Washington5425137
Bolivar4841133
Panola4670110
Oktibbeha466198
Pearl River4605147
Marshall4574105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425873
Monroe4157135
Union415777
Neshoba4063179
Lincoln4008112
Hancock386987
Leflore3515125
Tate342486
Sunflower339491
Pike3371111
Alcorn327272
Scott320374
Yazoo314171
Adams308086
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma298784
Simpson298589
Tippah291968
Prentiss284161
Leake272074
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264642
Grenada264087
George252251
Newton248663
Tishomingo231868
Winston230181
Jasper222148
Attala215073
Chickasaw210559
Holmes190474
Stone188433
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174132
Yalobusha167840
Smith164134
Walthall135347
Greene131834
Lawrence131124
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127238
Amite126242
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108234
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96629
Franklin85023
Quitman82216
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 548657

Reported Deaths: 11306
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810031566
Mobile42105831
Madison35690525
Tuscaloosa26173458
Shelby25607254
Montgomery25081614
Baldwin21868314
Lee16278176
Calhoun14719327
Morgan14629285
Etowah14175364
Marshall12453230
Houston10781287
Elmore10293214
Limestone10179157
St. Clair10162251
Cullman9952201
Lauderdale9603250
DeKalb8972190
Talladega8460184
Walker7338280
Autauga7241113
Blount6945139
Jackson6932113
Colbert6413140
Coffee5635127
Dale4928116
Russell454841
Chilton4476116
Franklin431382
Covington4275122
Tallapoosa4138155
Escambia401680
Chambers3728124
Dallas3607158
Clarke353061
Marion3240107
Pike314378
Lawrence3133100
Winston283472
Bibb268564
Geneva257981
Marengo250565
Pickens236962
Barbour234559
Hale227278
Butler224271
Fayette218862
Henry194543
Randolph187544
Cherokee187345
Monroe180041
Washington170539
Macon163051
Clay160059
Crenshaw155957
Cleburne153444
Lamar146837
Lowndes142254
Wilcox126930
Bullock124342
Conecuh113630
Coosa111729
Perry108626
Sumter105732
Greene93634
Choctaw62125
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