In a new state Supreme Court filing, the Mississippi secretary of state and attorney general are condemning a “woefully untimely” lawsuit that seeks to overturn a medical marijuana initiative that voters approved during last week’s election. But the petitioners who brought the challenge are pushing back in their own filing.
Days before the election, the mayor of the city of Madison asked the state Supreme Court to invalidate the cannabis reform measure because, she argued, it was unlawfully placed before voters. The suit did not weigh in on the merits of the proposal itself.
While the court had initially instructed the secretary of state to promptly respond to the emergency petition, Chief Justice Michael Randolph rescinded the earlier order and instead asked that the official weigh in by November 6—three days after the election.
Madison’s challenge cites a state 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.
The response from the secretary of state’s office, signed by the state attorney general, uses strong language to push back on the challenge—especially with respect to the timing of the filing.
“Even if their interpretative argument is correct, petitioners’ action is woefully untimely. They could have asserted their so-called ‘procedural’ challenge years ago, and certainly when former-Secretary of State Hosemann officially filed Initiative Measure 65 in September 2019,” the office said. “Petitioners’ inexcusable and unreasonable delay has prejudiced the Secretary of State, the State, and the public-at-large.”
“Additionally, and not least important, common law equity principles and clear precedent of this Court prohibits petitioners from obtaining a writ of mandamus or other extraordinary writ against the Secretary of State. The Secretary’s ministerial duties of receiving and reporting the results of the November 3, 2020 election, as this Court already held nearly fifty years ago, are not subject to a writ.”
The secretary of state’s office said the court “should deny petitioners’ requested relief and dismiss their petition.”
Attorneys for the medical cannabis legalization campaign also submitted a filing intervening in the case on Monday, arguing that “issues concerning jurisdiction, timeliness, procedure, and the very remedy sought” should lead the justices to dismiss the case. In particular, they say the petitioners should have sought judicial relief at the trial court level before appealing to the state’s highest court.
“The people of Mississippi should not be stripped of a fundamental constitutional right by virtue of a tortured and novel reading of the Constitution,” the response states.
Petitioners seeking to invalidate the legalization vote claimed that the government’s position on the timeliness of their suit is redundant.
“This is an improper attempt to shift the burden of proof to Petitioners for a defense Respondents must prove,” they said. “Respondents fail to demonstrate facts to support their assertion that Petitioners knew they had a claim yet waited too long to assert it. It is not clear precisely when Respondents contend the petition should have been filed.”
“The wisdom of medical marijuana in Mississippi is not on trial here. The issue is whether the plain language of the Constitution must be followed,” they said. “The question is simple but the stakes are high. The rule of law depends on it.”
On a similar note, the Montana Supreme Court last month rejected a lawsuit seeking to invalidate a marijuana legalization measure that has since been approved by voters.
With weeks before the election, opponents asked the court to quash the measure, arguing that because it involves appropriating funds, it violates the state Constitution. 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 are now pursuing.
In neighboring Nebraska, the state Supreme Court ruled in September 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.
In Mississippi, activists faced numerous obstacles getting on the ballot and passing beyond this still-pending legal challenge.
Most glaringly, the addition of a more restrictive alternative measure that the legislature placed on the ballot and the resulting two-step question voters face represented a significant problem for activists. But in the end, voters overwhelmingly approved the activist-led proposal.
The initiative will allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. It includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
Under the approved measure, the Mississippi Department of Health will be responsible for developing regulations for the program by July 1, 2021. Medical cannabis patient cards will need to be issued by August 15, 2021.
The Mississippi State Medical Association and American Medical Association circulated a sample ballot that instructed voters on how to reject Initiative 65.
Last month, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed legislation that amended state law to allow people to obtain marijuana-derived medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, stating that he’s “against efforts to make marijuana mainstream.”
Earlier this month, the governor took to Twitter to slam the medical marijuana measures, saying they are favored by “stoners” and claiming they would be “the most liberal weed rules in the US.”
Advocates also faced a public relations challenge when President Trump’s reelection campaign sent them a cease and desist letter, demanding that they stop using accurate quotes from the president in support of medical cannabis in mailers and campaign materials.
In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve posed an additional threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.
Read the secretary of state office’s response to the medical marijuana legalization challenge below:
Missouri Lawmakers Must Legalize Marijuana With Freedom In Mind, Former Prisoner Says (Op-Ed)
“It is important that our elected officials consider what path may be best and ultimately fulfill the increasing demand from voters for greater liberty and freedom in our state.”
By Jeff Mizanskey, Missouri Independent
In 1984, I was arrested for felony possession of marijuana for a half-pound of marijuana, for which I served five years of probation.
In 1991, I was arrested for possession of two ounces of marijuana, for which I served 60 days in county prison.
Finally, in 1993, I was arrested as an accessory in a deal for seven pounds of marijuana, and although I had no intention of possession or distribution, a jury convicted me and a circuit court judge sentenced me to life in prison under Missouri’s now-repealed prior and persistent offender statute.
During the next 22 years, American voters came to the realization that marijuana was a very beneficial medicine with a low risk profile, and state by state began passing medical marijuana laws or outright legalization.
Ultimately, then-Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon commuted my sentence after state Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, filed legislation to require parole for marijuana offenders serving life sentences. My case was also supported by a national coalition of people and organizations who were shocked by the harshness of my sentence.
In 2018, Missouri voters passed a medical marijuana proposal at the ballot, which now allows people to obtain a physician’s recommendation for marijuana and has created a legal market for production and sales. The only controversy over legal medical marijuana has been over the restrictions on commercial licensing—85 percent of the over 2,200 applicants for marijuana business licenses were rejected in a process widely seen as arbitrary and unfair.
Now, two different ballot initiative campaigns, backed by different groups claiming to represent the marijuana industry, are competing to again change the Missouri Constitution to legalize recreational marijuana. But both of these proposals have significant flaws. Most significantly, both proposals create limits on personal marijuana possession and allow civil and criminal charges, including felonies, for possession of more than twice the possession limits.
Coupled with tight restrictions on commercial marijuana licensing, Missouri might continue to see a two-tiered system of justice and economic opportunity, where a privileged wealthy few are allowed to profit from legal marijuana sales while poor and politically weak Missourians continue to be sanctioned for the proposed crime of possessing too much marijuana.
By contrast, there is no other item of legal personal property that Missouri law creates a possession limit for, and I’ll point out specifically alcohol, our most dangerous drug, for which there are over 16,000 licenses for on and off premise sales registered in our state and no possession limits for individuals.
In January, the Missouri General Assembly will reconvene, and only the elected representatives of the people have the ability and the political will to consider these issues and take in input from all stakeholders. It is important that our elected officials consider what path may be best and ultimately fulfill the increasing demand from voters for greater liberty and freedom in our state.
Jeff Mizanskey is a resident of Sedalia and veteran of the United States Air Force. In 2015, he was released from a life sentence for nonviolent marijuana charges after then-Gov. Jay Nixon commuted his sentence.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
Indiana GOP Lawmaker Plans Medical Marijuana Bill As Democrats Push Full Recreational Legalization
“It polls higher than any other issue. We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”
By Margaret Menge, The Center Square
Democrats in Indiana have launched a campaign to legalize marijuana in the state and appealed to business-friendly Republicans to join to help the state’s economy.
There is some support from Republicans.
“I have a medical cannabis bill ready to go,” Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said.
He said the bill will be similar to the one he introduced in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly, which would permit the use of medical marijuana by people with “serious medical conditions” as determined by a doctor, and would permit the “cultivation, testing, processing, transportation and dispensing” of medical marijuana by people who hold a valid permit issued by the state.
It also would put the Indiana Department of Health in charge of implementing and enforcing the medical marijuana program.
Indiana is one of just a handful of states that has not legalized medical marijuana.
“It polls higher than any other issue,” Lucas said. “We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”
In 2016, the national American Legion, which is based in Indianapolis, called on Congress to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act and reclassify it to “recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value.”
The Legion has also pushed for more research to be done on marijuana related to its potential in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular.
The Indiana American Legion, however, has not taken a position on the issue, and did not discuss the bill Lucas introduced in the last session, spokesperson Josh Marshall said.
He said the issue would have to be reviewed by the organization’s executive committee before any action were taken on the issue in the upcoming session of the legislature, which begins January 3.
Meanwhile, Indiana Democrats are pushing to get the issue on the table.
Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, is set to lead a “community talking circle” at a pizza place in Muncie today to hear from the public about legalizing medical marijuana.
“The reality is that medical cannabis is becoming an accepted and preferred method of treatment throughout the country,” Errington said in a statement from the Indiana House Democratic Caucus on November 29. “Medical cannabis is a safe, non-addictive alternative to opioids that could benefit Hoosiers who live with chronic pain and anxiety disorders, including our brave veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who have sacrificed so much for our state deserve an effective treatment for their pain, rather than a potential criminal record.”
Republicans hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature and hold every statewide office. But legislative leaders—some of them—have appeared more open on the issue in recent years.
In 2018, the Republican floor leader in the Indiana House of Representatives, Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, authored a resolution calling for an interim study committee to research medical marijuana.
“Hoosiers rightfully want to know what direction Indiana will take,” he said at the time. “I believe it is wise of policymakers to carefully gather public and professional input.”
Lehman told Fox59 last month that he thinks there’s “always room for discussion” about medical marijuana, but that he thought the federal government would have to act first, before Indiana takes action.
DEA Backs White House Plan To Streamline Research On Marijuana, Psychedelics And Other Schedule I Drugs
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) say they are in favor of a White House proposal to streamline the process of researching Schedule I drugs like marijuana and certain psychedelics.
The agencies testified at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Thursday, expressing support for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) research plan. While the focus of the meeting was mostly on a controversial move to strictly classify fentanyl-related substances, the Biden administration proposal’s research components would also help address concerns within the scientific community about the difficulty of studying other Schedule I drugs.
DEA said in written testimony that “expanding access to Schedule I research is a critical part of DEA’s mission to protect public safety and health.”
“It is critical that the scientific and medical community study Schedule I substances, as some may turn out to have therapeutic value,” DEA Principal Deputy Administrator Louis Milione said. “DEA supports the administration’s legislative proposal’s expansion of access to Schedule I research. DEA looks forward to continuing to work with the research community and our interagency partners to facilitate Schedule I research.”
In general, what the administration is proposing is to align the research requirements for Schedule I drugs with those of less-restricted Schedule II drugs. Scientists and lawmakers have consistently pointed out that the existing rules for studying Schedule I controlled substances are excessively burdensome, limiting vital research.
Rather than having each scientist involved in a Schedule I drug study obtain DEA registration, ONDCP wants to make it so multiple researchers at a given institution would be allowed to participate under a single registration. The administration also proposed a policy change where a research institute with studies taking place over multiple locations would only require one overall registration instead of needing to have a specific one for each site.
Another change would allow certain researchers to move ahead with conducting their studies after submitting a notification to the Department of Justice instead of waiting for officials to affirmatively sign off on their proposals. ONDCP’s plan would also waive the requirement for additional inspections at research sites in some circumstances and allow researchers to manufacture small amounts of drugs without obtaining separate registrations. The latter component would not allow cultivation of marijuana, however.
“Even experienced researchers have reported that obtaining a new Schedule I registration, adding new substances to an existing registration, or getting approval for research protocol changes is time consuming,” NIDA Director Nora Volkow said in her testimony. “Unlike for Schedule II through V substances, new and amended Schedule I applications are referred by the DEA to the HHS for a review of the protocol and a determination of the qualifications and competency of the investigator.”
“Researchers have reported that sometimes these challenges impact Schedule I research and deter or prevent scientists from pursuing this critical work,” she said.
In an interview last week, Vokow said that even she—the top federal official overseeing drug research—is personally reluctant to conduct studies on Schedule I substances like marijuana because of the “cumbersome” rules that scientists face when investigating them.
When ONDCP first announced its proposed Schedule I policy changes in September, some experts tempered expectations about the practical effects of aligning Schedule I and Schedule II applications. The difference is largely a matter of extra paperwork for the more restrictive category, they contend.
Regardless, several lawmakers who attended Thursday’s subcommittee hearing expressed enthusiasm about the prospects of these policy changes.
“I’m particularly interested in eroding existing barriers of federal law that limit researchers at academic medical centers from studying Schedule I substances,” Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) said. “So I’m grateful that our research agencies are working to find effective solutions.”
Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) also weighed in, saying that “we all agree that the current scheduling classification system has made it very difficult for scientists to research the effects of scheduled compounds, which may have medicinal properties.”
“For example, we know that compounds in marijuana have legitimate and beneficial medical uses, despite it being Schedule I,” he said. “So I’m encouraged to see that efforts are being made to allow researchers to study the effects of various compounds. In this proposal.”
ONDCP’s intent to streamline research into Schedule I drugs has been notable and seems to be part of a theme that developed within the administration.
For example, DEA has repeatedly proposed significant increases in the production of marijuana, psilocybin and other psychedelics for research purposes, with the intent of aiding in the development of new federally approved therapeutic medications.
NIDA’s Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s prior proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.
But while the production developments are promising, advocates are still frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.
There has been at least one recent development in the fight to modernize marijuana research. President Joe Biden signed a massive infrastructure bill last month that includes provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual cannabis that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.
But that’s just one of numerous research barriers that scientists have identified. A report that NIDA recently submitted to Congress stressed that the Schedule I status of controlled substances like marijuana is preventing or discouraging research into their potential risks and benefits.
A federal appeals court recently dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Meanwhile, DEA has given hemp businesses that sell delta-8 THC products a boost, with representatives making comments recently signaling that, at the federal level at least, it’s not a controlled substance at this time.
Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.