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Mississippi City Asks State Supreme Court To Invalidate Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative

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The city of Madison, Mississippi is asking the state Supreme Court to invalidate a medical marijuana legalization initiative that’s on the ballot.

While city officials say they aren’t making the appeal because they necessarily oppose the reform proposal, they’re arguing that the measure was unlawfully placed on the ballot because it violates the state Constitution’s procedural rule on citizen initiatives.

The emergency petition, filed on Monday, cites a law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.

“Petitioners’ challenge to the filing of the petition for Initiative Measure No. 65 is a challenge to form,” the filing says. “The measure could be about any topic, and its constitutional invalidity would remain. No matter what the content of the measure is, the petition signatures are insufficient under the plain language” of the Constitution until the lawmakers institute a fix.

“It is unfortunate that the Legislature’s failure means that the Constitution cannot be amended by initiative until either Section 273(3) is amended or Mississippi regains a congressional seat,” the lawsuit states.

“This action is not about the wisdom of legalizing medical marijuana. It bears repeating that the City of Madison and Mayor Hawkins Butler are not opposed to a well-regulated medical marijuana program for the truly suffering,” the city’s filing says. “What the City and the Mayor oppose is the failure of the Legislature to amend Section 273(3) and the failure of the Secretary of State to follow the plain language of the Constitution. A constitutional amendment must be enacted constitutionally.”

The filing does contain one substantive complaint about the measure, however.

“Initiative Measure No. 65 would likely allow any licensed ‘medical marijuana treatment center’ to grow marijuana within residential areas, substantially harming the City’s legitimate interest in conserving the value of property and protecting the health and safety of its citizenry,” it says.

Madison officials are asking the court to deem the placement of the legalization initiative unconstitutional and “issue whatever extraordinary writs appropriate” to nullify the vote.

“The constitutional process for amending our constitution has not been followed and the public has been misled about the content of the initiative,” Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler (R) said in a press release. “Initiative 65 gives marijuana providers greater rights than any other lawful business. Such a significant change must be lawfully adopted.”

On Tuesday, the court ordered the secretary of state’s office to file response to the petition by the close of business on Wednesday.

Under the reform measure, patients with debilitating medical issues would be allowed to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), the campaign behind the initiative, has faced a series of obstacles before and after qualifying for the state’s November ballot.

Most recently, President Trump’s reelection campaign issued a cease and desist order against the Mississippi advocates, claiming “unauthorized and misleading representation” of the president’s position on the reform measure in one of its mailers—even though he has on multiple occasions spoken favorably on camera about medical cannabis.

But the primary complication for advocates is the fact that two competing initiatives will appear alongside each other on the ballot. After MCC qualified their measure by collecting signatures from voters, the legislature approved an alternative that is viewed as more restrictive. The result is a muddled ballot that requires voters to answer a two-step series of questions—and that potential confusion threatens to jeopardize the activist-led proposal.

The Mississippi State Medical Association and American Medical Association have also contributed to the opposition, circulating a sample ballot that instructs voters on how to reject Initiative 65.

Earlier this month, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed legislation that amends state law to allow people to obtain marijuana-derived medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. He also reiterated his opposition to broader medical cannabis reform, stating that he’s “against efforts to make marijuana mainstream.”

In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve similarly posed a threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.

“The secretary of state properly qualified Initiative 65 under the same constitutional procedures used for every other successful voter initiative. The lawsuit from the City of Madison is meritless,” Mississippians for Compassionate Care Communications Director Jamie Grantham said. “This is simply a last-ditch effort by political and bureaucratic opponents to deny relief to patients with 22 specific debilitating medical conditions.”

This isn’t the first time that this election cycle that courts have been involved in state-level cannabis legalization ballot initiatives.

The Montana Supreme Court last week rejected a lawsuit seeking to invalidate a marijuana legalization measure that will appear on the state’s November ballot.

With weeks before the election, opponents asked the court to quash the measure, arguing that because it involves appropriating funds, it violates state statute on citizen initiatives. The court didn’t weigh in on the merits of the case; rather, it said the petitioners with the reform campaign failed to demonstrate “urgency or emergency factors” that would justify moving the case into its jurisdiction instead of going through trial and appeals courts first, which opponents said they will now do.

In neighboring Nebraska, the state Supreme Court ruled last month that a measure to legalize medical cannabis that had qualified for the November ballot could not proceed because it violated the state’s single-subject rule for ballot initiatives.

Activists there are already pursuing a simplified medical cannabis measure for 2022.

Read the city of Madison’s petition to the court on the marijuana reform initiative below: 

Mississippi Medical Cannabi… by Marijuana Moment

South Dakota Voters Back Marijuana Legalization And Medical Cannabis Ballot Measures, Poll Finds

Photo elements courtesy of rawpixel and Philip Steffan.

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