This past Friday, The Supreme Court of Mississippi overturned a voter-approved medical marijuana bill that passed with extreme support back in November.
NBC News described the situation as “an odd flaw in the state constitution’s voter initiative process.” The state supreme court described the proposal, also known as Initiative 65, had been placed improperly on the ballot after a 6-3 vote.
As reported by the Daily Journal, “The court found that the Constitutional provisions for a voter referendum require that signatures be gathered equally from five congressional districts.” This is an issue due to the fact that, after the 2000 U.S. Census caused the state to lose a congressional district, the state only has four congressional districts. All of this time, lawmakers never updated and revised the language of the state’s constitution. The Journal went on to say that the court’s ruling “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,” stated Justice Josiah Coleman as part of the majority opinion. “To work in today’s reality, it will need amending – something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”
As part of the dissent, Justice James Maxwell stated that the majority opinion “confidently and correctly points out” that the supreme court could not make changes to 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,” Maxwell stated.
Mississippi took the lead as the first state in the Deep South where the people chose, in a landslide vote, to allow the legalization of medical use marijuana with over 73% of the voters showing support for Initiative 65. The proposal itself forced the state’s Health Department to start up a medical marijuana program.
“The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people in Mississippi,” stated executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, Ken Newburger. “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.”
As reported by the Associated Press, Mary Hawkins Butler, the mayor of Madison, had filed a lawsuit a few days before the election and was against Initiative 65 “because it limits a city’s ability to regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses.” The AP continued, “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 stated in a talk with the AP this past 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.”