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Butler and Madison, however, argue that the initiative process is outdated because the constitution specifies that no more than one-fifth of the signatures may come from any congressional district, and that creates a mathematical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: 307519

Reported Deaths: 7096
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20772248
Hinds19888408
Harrison17489302
Rankin13311275
Jackson13097243
Madison9895210
Lee9856169
Jones8290160
Forrest7523146
Lauderdale7187237
Lowndes6262144
Lamar610584
Lafayette6027117
Washington5280132
Bolivar4769129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4442103
Pearl River4419139
Warren4280118
Marshall4273100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4057132
Union403675
Neshoba3987176
Lincoln3869108
Hancock372085
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322681
Pike3180104
Scott310572
Yazoo304368
Alcorn297764
Itawamba296776
Copiah292965
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284668
Prentiss275659
Marion265779
Wayne261341
Leake261073
Grenada254982
Covington254580
Adams245882
Newton244859
George237847
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213273
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182454
Stone179131
Clarke176876
Tallahatchie175240
Calhoun163230
Yalobusha158836
Smith158534
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126223
Noxubee125933
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite120041
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95226
Humphreys94332
Franklin81823
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518899

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753641487
Mobile37763798
Madison33859494
Tuscaloosa25266443
Montgomery23962565
Shelby23106238
Baldwin20631300
Lee15524165
Calhoun14284311
Morgan14139268
Etowah13662345
Marshall11957219
Houston10380278
Elmore9993200
Limestone9811147
Cullman9470188
St. Clair9426234
Lauderdale9215227
DeKalb8746181
Talladega8058171
Walker7087275
Jackson6754110
Autauga6723103
Blount6483135
Colbert6203130
Coffee5399112
Dale4767110
Russell428838
Franklin419982
Chilton4083109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3893146
Escambia387674
Dallas3527149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305875
Lawrence295395
Winston272372
Bibb256258
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218775
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176941
Monroe171440
Washington164038
Macon154548
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58724
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