Medical marijuana initiative continues to be challenged in state supreme court

Medical marijuana initiative continues to be challenged in state supreme court
(Source: AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Another volley has been fired in Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s bid to have the state’s medical marijuana initiative tossed.

In November, Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 65, a ballot initiative that will legalize medical marijuana in the state.

Butler is asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to throw out the vote, saying the law allowing the measure was unconstitutional.

The mayor filed suit because she is worried about the impact the legalization of medical marijuana would have on her city. She is particularly concerned that city zoning would not be able to prohibit dispensaries from popping up in residential areas.

Secretary of State Michael Watson said that granting Butler’s request to toss the results has the potential to “destroy all of the state’s initiative enactments over the past nearly 20 years.”

Both sides are seeking oral arguments in the case. The court had not decided whether to allow them.

Butler had previously asked for an emergency injunction to prevent the initiative from appearing on the November 2020 ballot.

At the heart of the matter is Section 273(3) of the state constitution. The section lays out steps for allowing ballot initiatives to be brought forward by private residents.

The law states that petitioners must obtain signatures equal to 12 percent of the total votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election.

It goes on to state that no more than 20 percent of the total signatures collected may come from any of the state’s five congressional districts.

Therein lies the problem: the state has just four congressional districts. Butler contends that it’s impossible to meet the article’s standards as a result.

“Twenty percent from each congressional district equals 80 percent total,” attorneys for the mayor write. “To reach 100 percent, the number from at least one district must exceed 20 percent.”

Voters amended Section 273 in the 1992 general election. At the time, the state had five congressional representatives. Mississippi lost a representative following the 2000 census.

Butler argues that the state should require signatures for initiatives to be obtained based on current districts, rather than the five that were in place when 273 was passed.

Attorneys for the mayor also say the state must follow the four-district plan based on the decision handed down in a 2011 federal court case redrawing the state’s congressional boundaries.

Watson, though, said the four-district plan only applies to elections, not other state business.

“Five congressional districts exist under state law and may be used for anything but congressional elections,” attorneys for the state write.

The supreme court’s decision ultimately could hinge on the definition of “congressional district.”

Waston argues for the contextual reading of Section 273(3)’s term congressional district, which means the five districts established by state law that were in place at the time 273(3) was passed.

Butler disagrees, saying, “The secretary’s argument can only succeed if ‘congressional district’ does not carry its ordinary, plain, dictionary meaning: ‘a geographical unit of a state from which one member of the House of Representatives is elected.’”

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