The fate of Mississippi’s medical marijuana program will be a step closer to resolution after the state Supreme Court hears oral arguments on April 14.
On October 26, the city of Madison filed a lawsuit to overturn the Initiative 65, which would create a medical marijuana program in the state.
What’s at stake: If the court decides for the city of Madison, it would overturn Initiative 65 — which received 57.89 percent of the vote statewide. More than 61 percent of voters cast a ballot for 65 and the legislative alternative, 65A, on November 3.
Format: Each side will have 30 minutes of time to make their case before the justices. The court will broadcast a livestream of the oral arguments that can be seen here.
Who’s opposed to Initiative 65: In addition to the city of Madison, the state Department of Health, the state Sheriffs’ Association and the Mississippi Municipal League, which is the advocacy group for municipalities statewide have all filed briefs in support of an overturn.
Who supports Initiative 65: The original filer of Initiative 65, Ashley Durval, a group of doctors and the conservative Americans for Prosperity group have filed briefs opposing Madison’s lawsuit.
The argument against Initiative 65: The lawsuit utilizes a unique reading of Section 273 of the Mississippi Constitution. The city of Madison says in its lawsuit that the ballot initiative is unconstitutional since there are four congressional districts (there were five when the amendment was added to the state constitution) and the number of signatures submitted from at least one of the four districts exceeds the one-fifth of the total number required.
The original petition by the city of Madison says that the state Constitution prohibits the secretary of state from considering any signatures exceeding one-fifth of the total number of signatures required and state law prohibits the secretary of state from putting an initiative on the ballot that doesn’t meet the standard.
The argument for Initiative 65: The initiative was put on the ballot lawfully and was passed by a majority of Mississippi voters. The writers of the law didn’t intend for it to be overturned because of changes in congressional districts every ten years because of the U.S. Census.
Also, the collateral damage by an adverse decision against the 65 and the ballot initiative process as codified in state law would be severe. The secretary of state’s attorneys argue that if the court rules in favor of the city of Madison’s interpretation of the ballot initiative law, existing constitutional amendments passed through the process besides Initiative 65 such as voter identification and protections against eminent domain could also be challenged and overturned using the same argument.
Why are we here: The Legislature has proposed seven concurrent resolutions to change the ballot initiative law since 2003 and all of them have failed. The secretary of state’s office replaced the language of “any congressional district” to “from each of the five congressional districts as they existed in the year 2000” in 2009.
The change was endorsed by an opinion from the state attorney general at the time, Jim Hood, but these opinions do not carry the weight of law.