The Mississippi Supreme Court was slated to begin oral arguments on April 14 regarding the new state constitutional challenge. The challenge aims to reverse the Election Day vote in which fully 73 percent of the state’s voters approved a plan to set up state-licensed dispensaries to offer cannabis products to patients holding a medical certification.
That vote went through but only after Mary Hawkins Butler, the mayor of Madison, Mississippi (pop. 25,592), filed a lawsuit saying that the vote should be nullified because of the legislature’s failure to update guidelines for the petitioners behind the legalization effort.
The guidelines, as described in a press release from NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), regard state statutes that say that in order to present citizen-initiatives, petitioners must gather an equal percentage of signatures from each of Mississippi’s congressional districts. There used to be five such districts; since 2000, there have been five for congressional elections (but four for everything else).
The legal issue the petitioners have raised is that the legislature failed to update and formalize the relevant statute.
NORML’s release was clear on where that pro-legalization organization stands on the nature of the litigants’ argument. “Legalization opponents have shown time and time again that they cannot succeed in the court of opinion or at the ballot box,” said state policies manager Carly Wolf. Given the strong, bipartisan vote by Mississippi citizens, she added, “Americans should be outraged at these overtly undemocratic tactics, and the Court should reject them.”
Mayor Butler, for her part, said the November election vote on medical marijuana had created a “zombie law.”
Bloombergtax.com wanted to know more. It reached out to University of Mississippi political science professor Miles Armaly, who pointed out that the justices tasked with making the decision in the case may feel more than just a little political pressure, considering that they owe their jobs to voters. “They don’t want to make an unpopular decision that strips away direct democracy from people, that strips away medical marijuana that a lot of people voted for,” Armaly said.
Mississippi is one of nine Southern states that have legalized medical marijuana. Of those nine, five (North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia) allow only low-THC products s in their dispensaries.
On the legal front, Mississippi is one of three states nationwide with 2020 election ballot initiatives undergoing state court reviews. Montana and South Dakota have seen similar challenges to their voter-approved legalization of adult-use marijuana.
In Mississippi, despite the new court action, the state’s cannabis trade association is registering new members. July 1 is the state’s deadline for creating a medical marijuana program.
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