Mississippi Supreme Court Cancels Successful Medical Marijuana 65 Initiative

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Friday put down a medical marijuana initiative, Initiative 65, that won the November election and turned the will of nearly 70% of the state’s electorate on its head. Supreme Court justices ruled 6-3 that the Mississippi electoral initiative process was constitutionally flawed and effectively condemned future voter-led voting pending lawmakers to remedy the situation.

In November, Mississippi voters approved Initiative 65, a measure that would have legalized the use, production and sale of medical marijuana. To qualify the initiative for national voting, proponents of the measure gathered enough signatures in each of the five congressional districts that existed when the Mississippi Initiative Process was drafted in the 1990s. According to this constitutional provision, ยง 273, no more than 20% of the signatures required to qualify electoral initiatives may come from a single congress district.

However, Mississippi has only four congressional districts after losing a seat in the House of Representatives following the 2000 census. Supporters of the electoral initiative relied on a legal opinion previously provided by former Mississippi attorney Jim Hood and raised 20% of the required sum in each of the five former congressional districts. Initiative 65 was then certified by the Mississippi Secretary of State for the 2020 vote.

Voter-approved initiative 65 November

In the general election, more than 68% voted for medical marijuana legalization in Mississippi. In a second election question, almost 74% of voters voted for Initiative 65 over a competing measure that the state parliament had put on the ballot as a reaction to the voter initiative.

Just days before the election, Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler of Madison, Mississippi, filed a lawsuit against the initiative, arguing that only 20% of signatures from each of the current Congressional districts should be counted. Butler turned down Initiative 65 because of regulations that limited local governments’ control over marijuana businesses. On Friday, the state Supreme Court ruled in Butler’s favor that Initiative 65 should not have been included in the vote and is invalid.

“Whether on purpose, accidentally, or otherwise, the authors of Section 273 (3) wrote a voting process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress,” wrote Judge Josiah Coleman for the Six-Justice Majority. “To work in today’s reality, it has to be changed – something that is beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”

In a dissenting opinion, Judge James Maxwell wrote that the majority’s interpretation of the section, as it is written, “kills the Mississippi citizen-initiative process”.

Maxwell went on to say that majority opinion “confidently and correctly indicates” that the Supreme Court has no power to change the state constitution.

“But the majority are doing just that – completely outside of the Mississippi Act – to apply an interpretation that not only changes the Mississippi citizen initiative process, but ends it in court,” Maxwell wrote.

The patient’s hopes are dashed by the decision

Following the approval of Initiative 65 in November, the Mississippi State Department of Health began drafting regulations for the medical marijuana program, as the measure mandates, while entrepreneurs interested in what they thought were newly legalized industries began to invest in cultivation and retail infrastructure. The Supreme Court ruling destroys hopes for patients who should have access to medical cannabis later this year.

“Today is a gruesome and tragic day for the sick and afflicted in Mississippi,” said Matthew Schweich, associate director of advocacy for cannabis policy reform, the Marijuana Policy Project. “As a result, tens of thousands of Mississippians with debilitating health conditions are being denied safe and legal access to anything that can relieve their pain and improve their quality of life.”

Ken Newburger, executive director of the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said the judges had overturned the will of the state’s voters.

“Patients will now continue the suffering so many Mississippians voted for,” Newburger said.

The Supreme Court has not found that two electoral measures approved in 2011 under the procedure they decided on were unconstitutional. The court’s ruling effectively negates any future voter initiative attempts in Mississippi, including the current Medicaid expansion effort and one that would authorize an early vote. Over the years, at least seven bills to correct the initiative process after the loss of the fifth congress seat have been proposed, but none have been approved by the state parliament.

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