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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: 501097

Reported Deaths: 9990
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34338538
DeSoto32117403
Hinds31939628
Jackson24494382
Rankin21995390
Lee15543235
Madison14581280
Jones13851242
Forrest13453251
Lauderdale11991317
Lowndes11050188
Lamar10521135
Pearl River9533237
Lafayette8550140
Hancock7732127
Washington7438158
Oktibbeha7146131
Monroe6777177
Warren6694176
Pontotoc6664102
Neshoba6637206
Panola6531131
Marshall6467134
Bolivar6317148
Union602894
Pike5820152
Alcorn5669101
Lincoln5436135
George496879
Scott472898
Tippah469281
Prentiss467281
Leflore4658144
Itawamba4636105
Tate4588111
Adams4587119
Copiah448592
Simpson4446116
Yazoo444187
Wayne439772
Covington428894
Sunflower4239105
Marion4226108
Coahoma4160105
Leake408288
Newton381779
Grenada3707108
Stone360364
Tishomingo359792
Attala331589
Jasper329965
Winston314291
Clay308076
Chickasaw300367
Clarke292494
Calhoun279446
Holmes267987
Smith264050
Yalobusha234047
Tallahatchie228051
Greene219348
Walthall218763
Lawrence212940
Perry205556
Amite205156
Webster202946
Noxubee186740
Montgomery179656
Jefferson Davis171743
Carroll169138
Tunica159839
Benton148838
Kemper141941
Choctaw133426
Claiborne132737
Humphreys129538
Franklin120228
Quitman106428
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94534
Sharkey64120
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 820011

Reported Deaths: 15407
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1148361924
Mobile726091339
Madison52337697
Shelby37622350
Baldwin37258552
Tuscaloosa35117612
Montgomery34116740
Lee23536246
Calhoun22232488
Morgan20952378
Etowah19834500
Marshall18372304
Houston17390412
St. Clair16064339
Cullman15454293
Limestone15349199
Elmore15264286
Lauderdale14314295
Talladega13842283
DeKalb12662261
Walker11206370
Blount10197176
Autauga10047148
Jackson9874184
Coffee9211191
Dale8900185
Colbert8871201
Tallapoosa7089198
Escambia6775134
Covington6713183
Chilton6645162
Russell637059
Franklin5962105
Chambers5610142
Marion5007127
Dallas4975200
Pike4796106
Clarke475784
Geneva4574127
Winston4519103
Lawrence4324117
Bibb425286
Barbour357876
Marengo338390
Monroe331564
Randolph329764
Butler326496
Pickens316384
Henry312766
Hale311688
Cherokee302860
Fayette294180
Washington251651
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245275
Clay243368
Macon234863
Lamar224447
Conecuh186253
Coosa180240
Lowndes175364
Wilcox168939
Bullock151744
Perry138840
Sumter133238
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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