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Mississippi Medical Marijuana Initiative Continues to be Debated

— January 12, 2021

Madison, Mississippi Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler is challenging Initiative 65 in court.

In court documents filed late last month, state attorneys in Mississippi claimed Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s lawsuit originally filed in October is “making baseless arguments as it seeks to overturn a medical marijuana initiative that Mississippi voters approved.”  Butler opposed Initiative 65 because she said it “limits cities’ ability to regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses.”

Butler’s attorneys wrote, “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.”

The attorney general’s office filed arguments on behalf of Secretary of State Michael Watson, attacking the lawsuit, which alleged the initiative process in the Mississippi Constitution is outdated in such that it requires petitioners to gather an equal number of signatures from a handful of congressional districts, while, at the same time, Mississippi dropped from five congressional districts to four after the 2000 Census, making this a “mathematical improbability.”

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Initiative Continues to be Debated
Photo by Christina Winter on Unsplash

State attorneys responded in court papers, “Legislators never updated state laws to reflect four congressional districts instead of five.”  Instead, partisan disagreements within the Legislature at the time ended in lines being drawn by federal judges.

“As a result, four congressional districts exist in Mississippi under a federal injunction for congressional elections, but five congressional districts exist under state law and may be used for anything but congressional elections,” the attorneys wrote.  They also contend that Butler waited too long to oppose the initiative.

Butler’s attorneys insist their complaint was filed on time, and cite the legal code mandating a timely challenge could “protect voter ID and eminent domain” should the Supreme Court annul the initiative.  They said, “For Voter ID, the State has spent significant resources implementing its requirements, and countless elections have taken place since its enactment.  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.”

In September 2019, former Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann indicated the medical marijuana initiative qualified for the ballot because petition sponsors had enough signatures within the five districts.  In a December 8 filing with the Mississippi Supreme Court, Butler’s attorneys agreed with the decision.  They cited, “Legislators have known for years about the problem in the initiative process but have killed multiple proposals to fix it,” and added, “The secretary of state should not have relied on an attorney general’s opinion about signatures coming from the five outdated districts.”  In doing so, inclusion of the measure essentially amounted to one executive branch listening to another when decisions should be made by the legislative branch.

The Health Department, the Mississippi Municipal League, and others, have filed briefs supporting Butler’s lawsuit. The Health Department argued that Initiative 65 “seeks to transform the department into something it is not.”  Attorneys for the department said, “Rather than allowing the agency to focus its resources entirely on public health, it requires MSDH to get in the business of appropriations, agriculture, packaging and transport, advertising, marketing and penalty schemes – just to name a few.”


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