On Friday, the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative that passed with overwhelming support in November.
In what NBC News described as “an odd flaw in the state constitution’s voter initiative process,” the state’s high court ruled 6-3 that the proposal, known as Initiative 65, was improperly placed on the ballot last year.
According to the Daily Journal, “The court found that the Constitutional provisions for a voter referendum require that signatures be gathered equally from five congressional districts.” The state, however, only has four congressional districts after losing one seat following reapportionment after the 2000 U.S. Census. Lawmakers never updated the constitution’s language. The outlet reports that the court’s decision “invalidated…the ability of voters to directly amend the state constitution.”
“Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress,” wrote Justice Josiah Coleman in the majority opinion. “To work in today’s reality, it will need amending – something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”
In the dissent, Justice James Maxwell said the majority opinion “confidently and correctly points out” that the high court could not amend the state constitution.
“Yet the majority does just that – stepping completely outside of Mississippi law – to employ an interpretation that not only amends but judicially kills Mississippi’s citizen initiative process,” wrote Maxwell.
Mississippi was the first state in the Deep South where residents chose to legalize marijuana for medical use, with 73% of voters supporting Initiative 65 last fall. The proposal required the state Health Department to create a medical marijuana program.
“The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people in Mississippi,” said Ken Newburger, executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association. “Patients will now continue the suffering that so many Mississippians voted to end. The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent of the constitution and takes away people’s constitutional right. It’s a sad day for Mississippi when the Supreme Court communicates to a vast majority of the voters that their vote doesn’t matter.”
According to the Associated Press, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, a Republican, filed the lawsuit days before the election and opposed Initiative 65 “because it limits a city’s ability to regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses.” The AP reported, “State attorneys defended the initiative process by arguing that Mississippi has two sets of congressional districts – the current four for electing U.S. House members and the old five that are used for other purposes, including the appointment or election of people to other government jobs.”
“Our case was about the constitutional separation of powers,” Butler said in a statement issued to the AP on Friday. “The city is pleased that the Supreme Court followed the plain language of the Mississippi Constitution and recognized that, unfortunately, the current voter initiative process is broken.”
The AP went on to report, “Legislative leaders have not said clearly why they have not updated the initiative process in the 20 years since Mississippi lost a congressional seat.”
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