Oral arguments in a case that could decide the fate of the state’s medical marijuana program before it even begins are scheduled for April 14 before the state Supreme Court.
Each side will have 30 minutes of time to make their case to the court in a case that could overturn Initiative 65 — which received 73 percent of the vote and would create a medical marijuana program in the state.
The original lawsuit was brought by the city of Madison just days before the election on October 26 and uses a unique reading of Section 273 of the Mississippi Constitution. The argument made by the city of Madison is the ballot initiative is unconstitutional since there are four congressional districts (there were five when the amendment was added to the state constitution) and the number of signatures submitted from at least one of the four districts exceeds the one-fifth of the total number required.
The original petition by the city of Madison says that the state Constitution prohibits the secretary of state from considering any signatures exceeding one-fifth of the total number of signatures required and state law prohibits the secretary of state from putting an initiative on the ballot that doesn’t meet the standard.
Lawmakers have taken notice of the voter support for Initiative 65 and an overturn by the court might not be the end of medical marijuana in the state. There are 14 bills that involve cannabis that have been filed so far, including Senate Bill 2767 by state Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary B Committee’s bill would create a medical marijuana program in the state very similar to the one that would be created by Initiative 65.
Other groups filing briefs in support of the city of Madison’s lawsuit included the state Department of Health, the state Sheriffs’ Association and the Mississippi Municipal League, which is the advocacy group for municipalities statewide. Initiative 65’s initiative filer, Ashley Durval, a group of doctors and the conservative Americans for Prosperity group have filed briefs opposing the original lawsuit.
The Legislature has proposed seven concurrent resolutions to change the law since 2003 and all of them have failed. The secretary of state’s office replaced the language of “any congressional district” to “from each of the five congressional districts as they existed in the year 2000” in 2009.
The change was endorsed by an opinion from the state attorney general at the time, Jim Hood, but these opinions do not carry the weight of law.
In a reply submitted by the secretary of state’s office last month, the attorneys argue that if the court rules in favor of the city of Madison’s interpretation of the ballot initiative law, existing constitutional amendments passed through the process besides Initiative 65 such as voter identification and protections against eminent domain could also be challenged and overturned using the same argument.