Court date set in dispute over medical marijuana initiative approved by voters

Published 6:16 am Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Mississippi Supreme Court has set oral arguments for a lawsuit that questions the state initiative process and seeks to block development of a medical marijuana program.

The court issued an order Thursday setting the arguments for April 14.

Voters in November approved Initiative 65, which requires the state Health Department to establish a medical marijuana program by the middle of this year.

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A lawsuit by Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler is trying to block the program by arguing that the proposal should not have been on the ballot because Mississippi’s initiative process is outdated.

The state constitution says petitioners must gather an equal number of signatures from five congressional districts. Mississippi dropped from five congressional districts to four after the 2000 Census. Butler argues that this creates a mathematical impossibility: With four districts, more than one-fifth of the signatures must come from each.

In papers filed Dec. 28, state attorneys argued that Mississippi has two sets of congressional districts — one set used for congressional elections and one set used for other purposes.

Butler opposed Initiative 65 because it limits cities’ ability to regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses.

The Health Department, the Mississippi Municipal League and some others have filed briefs supporting Butler’s lawsuit. The Health Department argued that Initiative 65 seeks to transform the department “into something it is not,” even as the department is stretched because of the coronavirus pandemic.