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Attorneys defend Mississippi marijuana initiative process

Attorney General Lynn Fitch | Source: Mississippi Office of the Attorney General

The Mississippi attorney general says the state Supreme Court should dismiss a mayor’s lawsuit over a medical marijuana initiative.

Posted: Nov 9, 2020 4:38 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s top legal officer says the state Supreme Court should dismiss a mayor’s “woefully untimely” lawsuit questioning the legitimacy of the medical marijuana initiative that state voters approved by a wide margin last week.

The initiative's sponsors are making the same argument, saying that Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, an opponent of legalizing marijuana, is misinterpreting the signature-gathering requirements for getting an initiative onto the ballot.

Approved by 74% of Mississippi residents who voted last week, Initiative 65 requires the state Health Department to create a medical marijuana program by mid-2021.

Butler and the city of Madison filed a lawsuit days before the Nov. 3 election, arguing that the signature-gathering on petitions for Initiative 65 failed to meet state standards.

The Mississippi Constitution requires that the certified signatures required for an initiative come in equal number from the five congressional districts the state had when this requirement was written in the 1990s. Mississippi lost a seat after the 2000 Census, but the constitutional requirement has not been updated.

The state attorney general's office issued a legal opinion in 2009 saying that sponsors of initiatives should gather signatures from the five districts used in the 1990s. And in September 2019, then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said the medical marijuana initiative qualified for the ballot because petition sponsors had gathered enough signatures from each of the five old districts. They ultimately gathered about twice as many as the total of 106,190 signatures required statewide.

Butler and Madison, however, argue that the initiative process is outdated because the constitution specifies that no more than one-fifth of the signatures may come from any congressional district, and that creates a mathematical impossibility with four districts.

“Even if their interpretative argument is correct, petitioners’ action is woefully untimely,” Attorney General Lynn Fitch's office wrote in papers filed with the state Supreme Court on Friday. “They could have asserted their so-called ‘procedural’ challenge years ago."

In court papers filed Monday, attorneys for Initiative 65 sponsors Ashley Ann Durval and Angie Calhoun wrote that Butler is seeking to abolish Mississippi's initiative process.

They argued that Butler is erroneously interpreting the state constitution and that if the Supreme Court were to agree with Butler, “it would have to invalidate the vote of 74% of Mississippians who supported Initiative 65 and hold an entire section of the Constitution inoperative, while drawing into question past constitutional amendments by initiative.”

Attorneys for Butler and the city of Madison wrote in court papers Monday that their lawsuit could decide an important point about the initiative process. They wrote: "Should we read our constitution to mean what it says, or should we interpret it to support particular issues we are passionate about?”

The attorney general's filing does urge the state Supreme Court to clarify whether the old or current number of districts should determine whether an initiative has signatures from enough places.

“As the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution’s meaning, this Court needs to resolve that question here,” the attorney general's office wrote.

Initiative 65 will allow patients to use medical marijuana to treat debilitating conditions, as certified by physicians.

Legislators put an alternative medical marijuana proposal, 65A, on the ballot but voters rejected it in favor of 65. Supporters of 65 said the alternative was intended to confuse voters.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 503322

Reported Deaths: 10057
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34400541
DeSoto32318411
Hinds32074631
Jackson24551386
Rankin22103391
Lee15657235
Madison14662281
Jones13894243
Forrest13506253
Lauderdale12037318
Lowndes11091192
Lamar10531138
Pearl River9557238
Lafayette8581140
Hancock7751130
Washington7458161
Oktibbeha7152133
Monroe6796178
Warren6752176
Pontotoc6736104
Neshoba6656206
Panola6572131
Marshall6494135
Bolivar6331150
Union607794
Pike5849154
Alcorn5691102
Lincoln5468135
George502979
Scott474198
Tippah472481
Prentiss471582
Leflore4676144
Itawamba4651105
Tate4632111
Adams4617120
Copiah450092
Simpson4458116
Yazoo445388
Wayne440772
Covington429894
Sunflower4246105
Marion4236108
Coahoma4178108
Leake409888
Newton383179
Grenada3731108
Tishomingo361592
Stone360664
Jasper336565
Attala335290
Winston315391
Clay309077
Chickasaw302367
Clarke295894
Calhoun279947
Holmes268788
Smith266550
Yalobusha237247
Tallahatchie228752
Greene220649
Walthall219364
Lawrence213640
Perry206456
Amite206056
Webster203446
Noxubee186940
Montgomery179757
Jefferson Davis172243
Carroll169639
Tunica160139
Benton149439
Kemper142141
Choctaw134627
Claiborne132838
Humphreys129738
Franklin120728
Quitman106828
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson95934
Sharkey64220
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 821255

Reported Deaths: 15424
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1149051930
Mobile726651340
Madison52400699
Shelby37685350
Baldwin37285552
Tuscaloosa35147613
Montgomery34130740
Lee23556246
Calhoun22255490
Morgan21037378
Etowah19844500
Marshall18390304
Houston17406412
St. Clair16091339
Cullman15493293
Limestone15402199
Elmore15292286
Lauderdale14366295
Talladega13870283
DeKalb12670261
Walker11255370
Blount10227176
Autauga10061148
Jackson9909185
Coffee9215191
Dale8912186
Colbert8907201
Tallapoosa7103198
Escambia6782134
Covington6724183
Chilton6658162
Russell637659
Franklin5992105
Chambers5615142
Marion5016127
Dallas5013202
Pike4799106
Clarke477284
Geneva4577127
Winston4538103
Lawrence4352117
Bibb425686
Barbour358376
Marengo338390
Monroe332064
Randolph330264
Butler328596
Pickens317384
Henry313166
Hale311988
Cherokee303260
Fayette294580
Washington251651
Cleburne247960
Clay245568
Crenshaw245475
Macon235563
Lamar225747
Conecuh186654
Coosa180940
Lowndes175764
Wilcox169139
Bullock151844
Perry139240
Sumter133338
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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