JACKSON, miss. (AP) – Mississippi’s chief legal officer says the state’s Supreme Court should dismiss “woefully out of date” a lawsuit by a mayor that questions the legitimacy of the medical marijuana initiative that the state’s electorate rallied last week Have approved distance.
The initiative’s sponsors make the same argument, saying that Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, an opponent of marijuana legalization, misinterprets the signature-gathering requirements to get an initiative on the ballot.
Initiative 65 was approved by 74% of Mississippi residents who voted last week and requires the state Department of Health to put in place a medical marijuana program by mid-2021.
Butler and the City of Madison filed a lawsuit days before the November 3 election, alleging that collecting signatures on petitions for Initiative 65 was not up to state standards.
The Mississippi Constitution requires that the certified signatures required for an initiative come from the five Congressional districts in equal numbers that the state had when that requirement was written in the 1990s. Mississippi lost a seat after the 2000 census, but the constitutional requirements were not updated.
The Attorney General’s office issued a legal opinion in 2009 that sponsors of initiatives should collect signatures from the five districts used in the 1990s. And in September 2019, then Foreign Minister Delbert Hosemann said the medical marijuana initiative qualified for the vote because the petition sponsors had collected enough signatures from each of the five old districts. In the end, they collected about twice as many as the total of 106,190 signatures that were required nationwide.
However, Butler and Madison argue that the medical marijuana petitions should have an equal number of signatures from each of the four current districts.
“Even if their interpretative arguments are correct, the petitioners’ actions are completely out of date,” Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office wrote in papers filed Friday with the state’s Supreme Court. “They could have made their so-called ‘procedural’ challenge years ago.”
In court files filed on Monday, lawyers for Initiative 65 sponsors, Ashley Ann Durval and Angie Calhoun, wrote that Butler is trying to get rid of the Mississippi initiative process.
They argued that Butler is misinterpreting the state constitution and that if the Supreme Court approves Butler, “would have to invalidate the vote of 74% of Mississippians who supported Initiative 65 and override an entire section of the constitution while question previous constitutional amendments on the initiative. “
The attorney general’s filing asks the state’s Supreme Court to determine whether the old or current number of counties should determine whether an initiative has enough signatures.
“As the ultimate arbiter for the importance of the Constitution, this court must resolve this issue here,” wrote the Attorney General.
Initiative 65 enables patients to use medical marijuana to treat debilitating conditions as certified by doctors.
Lawmakers put an alternative medical marijuana proposal, 65A, on the ballot, but voters rejected it in favor of 65. Proponents of 65 said the alternative was meant to confuse voters.
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.