Mary Hawkins Butler, the mayor of Madison, sued Mississippi in October over its medical marijuana initiatives on the November ballot. Her chances of getting the vote tossed out appear slim, but it also is clear there are plenty of interested observers rooting for her.
Butler opposed Initiative 65, which amended the state Constitution, for a good reason: It limits the abilities of cities to regulate the location of places that sell marijuana. Her lawsuit, though, uses a different strategy, claiming that the approval of medical marijuana should be set aside because the process of getting an initiative on the ballot is flawed.
The state Constitution specifies that an initiative must have a certain number of signatures from each of five congressional districts. The problem is that, two decades ago, Mississippi’s lack of population growth reduced the state’s House representation in Washington by one seat, to four.
Attorneys defending the state in the lawsuit filed papers this week saying that state law, not to mention the Mississippi Constitution, still refers to the state’s five congressional districts.
They said that even though Mississippi does use four districts to elect its House members, the five former districts can be used for anything else — including the requirements for the number of voter signatures needed to get an initiative on the ballot.
In 2019, then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said the medical marijuana initiative qualified for the 2020 general election ballot because it had enough signatures from each of the five former congressional districts.
To reject the approval of the initiative, a judge would have to rule that state law is improper because the Legislature never adjusted it to reflect the loss of a congressional seat. Banking on a technicality of that nature seems like a long shot, especially given the surprising 2-to-1 support that Initiative 65 received from voters. It was not a close vote.
The lawsuit gets even more interesting because some influential organizations have filed documents supporting Madison’s case.
The Mississippi Department of Health, for example, complains that Initiative 65 has put plenty of new responsibilities on it as the manager of the medical marijuana program. The Mississippi Municipal League also has weighed in, presumably objecting to its members’ lack of regulatory power over this new program that involves the sale of drugs.
These objections are valid ones, and it would not be a surprise if legislative leaders and maybe even Gov. Tate Reeves are silently hoping that the lawsuit gets the referendum thrown out. That would give them the chance to address medical marijuana through legislation, with a second goal of delaying the arrival of legalized recreational marijuana in the state.
It is true that Initiative 65 is a flawed addition to the Constitution. But it is also an amendment that was approved by close to 70% of the voters. It will be hard to ignore that broad support.
Jack Ryan is editor and publisher of the McComb Enterprise-Journal.