Groups ask Mississippi court to revisit initiatives ruling after Secretary of State refuses to seek reconsideration

Published 6:43 am Saturday, May 29, 2021

People sponsoring new ballot initiatives said Friday that they want the Mississippi Supreme Court to reverse its recent ruling that invalidated the state’s initiative process.

They said they are doing so because Secretary of State Michael Watson announced Thursday that he would not seek reconsideration of the court’s 6-3 decision.

A majority of justices ruled May 14 that a medical marijuana proposal, Initiative 65, was not properly on the November ballot because Mississippi’s initiative process is outdated and unworkable. The court’s decision overturned voters’ approval of Initiative 65 and took away citizens’ process to put issues on the statewide ballot.

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“The Court’s decision in this case has voided a fundamental right granted to Mississippi electors who have voted from 1992 to the present as well as to all those electors who will vote into the foreseeable future,” an attorney for new initiatives on early voting and broad legalization of marijuana wrote in papers filed Friday.

The initiative process was put into the state constitution in 1992.

Mississippi requires initiative sponsors to gather one-fifth of their petition signatures from each congressional district. The process was put into the state constitution when Mississippi had five districts. The state dropped to four districts after the 2000 census because of stagnant population, but the initiative process was not updated.

The state attorney general issued a legal opinion in 2009 saying initiative sponsors should collect signatures from the five old districts.

Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler sued the state days before the 2020 general election, arguing that the medical marijuana initiative was not properly on the ballot. Her attorneys argued that the constitution creates a mathematical impossibility: With four districts, more than one-fifth of the signatures must come from each. A majority of justices agreed in the May 14 ruling.

Butler opposed the medical marijuana measure because it would have limited cities’ ability to regulate where such businesses may locate.

About 1.3 million people voted in Mississippi in November, and more than 766,000 of them voted in favor of the medical marijuana proposal, Initiative 65. That’s about 10,000 more residents than voted in November for then-President Donald Trump, who easily won in Mississippi despite losing his race for a second term.