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Butler and Madison, however, argue that the initiative process is outdated because the constitution specifies that no more than one-fifth of the signatures may come from any congressional district, and that creates a mathematical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: 250869

Reported Deaths: 5481
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17010171
Hinds16091318
Harrison13250193
Rankin10629208
Jackson10216182
Lee8759141
Madison8186161
Jones6222109
Forrest5917118
Lauderdale5808180
Lowndes5309111
Lafayette491192
Lamar480465
Washington4770123
Bolivar3955106
Oktibbeha390380
Panola365076
Pontotoc361152
Monroe3521104
Warren344597
Union341458
Marshall339165
Neshoba3357152
Pearl River323295
Leflore2992105
Lincoln295685
Sunflower280469
Tate269560
Alcorn262653
Itawamba261159
Hancock260458
Pike259977
Scott244745
Prentiss244052
Yazoo242654
Tippah239749
Copiah239149
Simpson233967
Leake229564
Coahoma228554
Grenada217070
Covington210471
Marion208371
Adams203270
Winston199464
Wayne198730
George197938
Attala193158
Newton189142
Chickasaw182944
Tishomingo182159
Holmes168167
Jasper167735
Clay158233
Stone141520
Tallahatchie139234
Clarke137460
Calhoun135121
Smith119423
Yalobusha116134
Walthall111736
Noxubee110222
Greene109129
Montgomery109134
Carroll104121
Lawrence102117
Perry100531
Amite96825
Webster91924
Tunica86021
Claiborne85525
Jefferson Davis84025
Humphreys82624
Benton81023
Kemper76620
Quitman6838
Franklin65815
Choctaw60013
Wilkinson58325
Jefferson53419
Sharkey42417
Issaquena1596
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 420681

Reported Deaths: 6119
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson61755921
Mobile30058548
Madison26852186
Tuscaloosa20652266
Montgomery18876305
Shelby18421114
Baldwin16176182
Lee12393101
Morgan12175113
Etowah11687168
Calhoun11078200
Marshall10158107
Houston8556148
Cullman7999105
Limestone796274
Elmore7783101
DeKalb767197
Lauderdale752883
St. Clair7502120
Talladega6145108
Walker5880174
Jackson578841
Colbert529873
Blount529283
Autauga515455
Coffee438156
Dale394381
Franklin365248
Chilton335365
Covington326968
Russell326810
Escambia316142
Dallas302896
Chambers281869
Clarke279633
Tallapoosa2607107
Pike247629
Marion244650
Lawrence242547
Winston225535
Bibb214447
Geneva199535
Marengo197829
Pickens196231
Hale175442
Barbour172336
Butler168458
Fayette167126
Cherokee160030
Henry152721
Monroe145017
Randolph138835
Washington137026
Clay126145
Crenshaw118644
Lamar117519
Cleburne117223
Macon114335
Lowndes109535
Wilcox102621
Bullock98728
Perry96919
Conecuh94220
Sumter88826
Greene75723
Coosa60515
Choctaw51224
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