Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Voter-Approved Ballot Initiative for Medical Cannabis

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Friday that the voice of its people, who voted in favor of legalizing medical by more than a two-thirds majority during in the November 2020 election, is not enough to influence policy.

The ballot measure, Initiative 65, would have required the Mississippi State Department of Health to adopt rules and regulations for a medical cannabis program by July 1, , and begin issuing medical patient cards and treatment center licenses by Aug. 15, 2021. The ballot results were certified by Secretary of State Michael Watson.

But the state’s high court overruled those election results by a 6-3 decision. Josiah D. Coleman wrote the majority opinion.

The Supreme Court’s ruling stems from Section 273(3) of the Mississippi Constitution, which states that signatures from each congressional district for a ballot initiative cannot exceed one-fifth of the total number of signatures required to qualified an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot. In short, the section was designed to ensure an even number of signatures was gathered from each congressional district for geographic uniformity.

However, after the 2000 Census, Mississippi dropped from five districts to four districts—making Section 273(3)’s one-fifth requirement mathematically at odds with the political structure of the state’s electorate. Language dealing with the initiative process was never updated to “one-fourth” in that section.

“Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress,” Coleman said in his majority opinion. “To work in today’s reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court. We grant the petition, reverse the secretary of state’s certification of Initiative 65, and hold that any subsequent proceedings on it are void.”

The Mississippi Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the voter-approved medical cannabis measure on April 14, after Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed a lawsuit that challenged the initiative process. Butler first filed the complaint in late October, just one week before Election Day.

Proponents of Initiative 65 said their petition met the requirements set by the state constitution and by a 2009 opinion from former Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, The Associated Press reported in October. That opinion concluded that the general purpose of the geographic distribution requirement for signatures was to help assure that citizens from one part of the state did not use the initiative process to the detriment of those in another.

Meeting that geographic objective, 74% of Mississippians passed Initiative 65 at the polls, winning in all 82 counties, according to Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association (3MA), a proponent of the reform effort.

“The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi,” 3MA Executive Director Ken Newburger said in a statement. “Patients will now continue the suffering that so many Mississippians voted to end. The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent

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