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By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS – Associated Press
JACKSON (AP) — The Mississippi Supreme Court on Friday overturned a medical marijuana initiative that voters approved last fall.
Six justices ruled that the medical marijuana initiative is void because the state’s initiative process is outdated. Three justices dissented.
Mississippi voters in November approved Initiative 65, which required the state Health Department to establish a medical marijuana program by the middle of this year. The department has been working to create a program as the legal fight continued.
To get Initiative 65 on the statewide ballot, organizers gathered signatures from the five congressional districts that Mississippi used during the 1990s. They did that based on legal advice issued years ago by the state attorney general’s office.
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed a lawsuit days before the election, contending that the state’s initiative process is outdated. She opposed Initiative 65 because it limits a city’s ability to regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses.
The Mississippi Constitution says petitioners must gather an equal number of signatures from five congressional districts. The state dropped from five congressional districts to four after the 2000 Census, but the constitution’s language about initiatives was not updated. Butler’s lawsuit argued that this creates a mathematical impossibility with four districts because the constitution still specifies that no more than one-fifth of the signatures may come from any single district.
In papers filed Dec. 28 and in oral arguments before the state Supreme Court on April 14, state attorneys said Mississippi has two sets of congressional districts — one set used for congressional elections and one set used for other purposes.
An attorney for Butler argued that the only purpose of a congressional district is to have geographical boundaries for electing U.S. House members.
Chief Justice Michael Randolph said during the April 14 hearing that seven bills have been filed over the years to update Mississippi’s initiative process to remove confusion about signatures coming from old or new congressional districts, and legislators have not made the change.
During the legislative session that ended in April, the Senate tried to create rules for a state medical marijuana program, but the House defeated the effort. Republican Sen. Kevin Blackwell of DeSoto County said the proposal was a backstop to have a program in place in case the Supreme Court agrees with Butler and invalidates Initiative 65.
But supporters of Initiative 65 balked at the Senate’s proposal, saying they saw it as an attempt to usurp the will of the voters.
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.