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Butler and Madison, however, argue that the initiative process is outdated because the constitution specifies that no more than one-fifth of the signatures may come from any congressional district, and that creates a mathematical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: 149940

Reported Deaths: 3779
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10097104
Hinds9984199
Harrison7116110
Jackson6360119
Rankin5588103
Lee509195
Madison4799106
Forrest383186
Jones357688
Lauderdale3496147
Lafayette326051
Washington3179107
Lamar291550
Oktibbeha245462
Bolivar241384
Lowndes237364
Panola222350
Neshoba2206118
Marshall217250
Leflore205590
Pontotoc199928
Monroe198177
Sunflower191655
Lincoln190865
Warren176857
Tate169851
Union167325
Copiah164140
Pike162658
Yazoo156039
Scott154829
Itawamba152935
Pearl River152167
Alcorn151328
Coahoma150543
Simpson148353
Prentiss146230
Adams141950
Grenada140945
Leake134944
Holmes130861
George125524
Tippah125230
Covington123439
Winston122224
Hancock121139
Wayne117923
Marion116646
Attala113034
Tishomingo109442
Chickasaw107632
Newton105629
Tallahatchie97027
Clay91327
Clarke90553
Jasper82822
Stone77014
Walthall76928
Calhoun75513
Montgomery74525
Carroll72415
Lawrence71814
Smith71316
Yalobusha71327
Noxubee71017
Perry67026
Tunica61019
Greene60322
Claiborne58616
Jefferson Davis57017
Amite54014
Humphreys53619
Benton49318
Quitman4927
Webster44314
Kemper43618
Wilkinson39822
Jefferson35211
Franklin3395
Choctaw3357
Sharkey30917
Issaquena1164
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 244993

Reported Deaths: 3572
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson32314500
Mobile19859361
Madison13223148
Tuscaloosa13049154
Montgomery12342236
Shelby1031577
Baldwin873398
Lee775766
Morgan662650
Calhoun6301119
Etowah627666
Marshall627255
Houston525638
DeKalb485536
Cullman439442
Limestone425145
St. Clair419555
Lauderdale407854
Elmore406864
Walker3657111
Talladega351454
Jackson320423
Colbert311942
Blount292240
Autauga273542
Franklin252633
Coffee245415
Dale232654
Dallas226232
Chilton223438
Russell22193
Covington218934
Escambia198331
Chambers176850
Tallapoosa176391
Pike158614
Clarke158419
Marion140236
Winston133023
Lawrence127936
Pickens123518
Geneva12218
Marengo121524
Bibb117917
Barbour117310
Butler116541
Randolph102921
Cherokee102224
Hale97031
Clay91924
Fayette91616
Washington91219
Henry8546
Lowndes79929
Monroe78911
Cleburne77214
Macon73722
Crenshaw71130
Bullock69619
Perry6886
Conecuh68414
Lamar6798
Wilcox63518
Sumter58122
Greene42618
Choctaw42213
Coosa3444
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