By Geoff Pender
Editor’s note: This story is breaking and will be updated.
The Mississippi Supreme Court on Friday issued a much-anticipated ruling that strikes down the Medical marijuana program enshrined in the constitution by voters in November.
The ruling also voids — for now — the state’s ballot initiative provision in the state constitution that allows voters to take matters in hand and pass constitutional amendments.
With six of the nine state justices agreeing, the court wrote, “We grant the petition, reverse the Secretary of State’s certification of initiative 65 and hold that any subsequent proceedings on it are void.”
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed a Supreme Court challenge to Initiative 65 just days before voters approved it on Nov. 3. Butler argued that Mississippi’s ballot initiative process is constitutionally flawed.
The ruling jeopardizes six pending ballot initiatives, including one to expand Medicaid and others to reinstate the state’s 1890 state flag, allow early voting and to approve recreational marijuana use. The ruling also could open to challenge two constitutional amendments that voters have passed since they were allowed to do so in 1992, one limiting eminent domain powers over government to take private land and one requiring a government-issued ID to vote.
The now-voided constitutional amendment passed by voters would have required Mississippi to have a medical marijuana program up and running by August.
Justice Josiah Coleman, writing for the majority, said, “the loss of congressional districts did, indeed, break (the ballot initiative provision) so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions.”
Justice Robert Chamberlin, in a dissenting opinion wrote that the majority ruling, “does not avoid absurdity, rather, it invites it.”
Butler, in her lawsuit against Secretary of State Michael Watson, argued that the ballot initiative language added to Section 273 of the state constitution in 1992 requires proponents to gather signatures evenly from five Mississippi congressional districts — with no more than 1/5, or 20% coming from any single district. Problem is, Mississippi has had only four congressional districts since the 2000 Census showed it lost population. Therefore, Butler argues, it’s a “mathematical certainty” that of the nearly 106,000 certified voter signatures collected from what are now four districts to put Initiative 65 on the ballot last year, signatures from at least one of the districts surpasses 20%.
Butler’s lawyers also argued that there have been at least seven unsuccessful attempts in the Legislature to address the issue, and that other parts of the constitution either refer to congressional districts “as now existing” or referring to their makeup at a specific date.
Neither Butler nor Watson could immediately be reached for comment on Friday.
Earlier this year, the state Senate passed an “alternative” medical marijuana program that proponents said could serve as a backstop in case the court struck down Initiative 65,but that measure was killed in the House. House Speaker Philip Gunn said lawmakers could consider a medical marijuana program in the event the court voided Initiative 65.