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Mississippi Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Initiative 65 challenge

Updated: Apr. 14, 2021 at 8:46 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Medical marijuana in Mississippi is facing a potential roadblock.

The state Supreme Court is deciding if the procedure for getting it on the ballot was constitutional. Justices are not considering whether medical marijuana should be legal.

“It’s totally irrelevant what this court thinks about Initiative 65 or how he voted,” noted Justice Dawn Beam Wednesday. “This is strictly before this court on a constitutional issue.”

It’s about signature collection in the ballot initiative process. The state changed from five to four districts after the 2000 Census. But the constitution was never updated to reflect that.

Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s complaint claims it’s now mathematically impossible for one fifth of the signatures to be evenly spread across just four districts.

“The Secretary of State’s determination that the petition supporting Initiative 65 was sufficient is unconstitutional,” said Butler’s attorney Kaytie Pickett.

The state’s attorney argues both the constitutional and state law need to be read to understand the intent.

“The fairest and best reading of 273 was then and is today to use the five districts currently existing under state law to determine the sufficiency of initiative petitions,” explained Deputy Attorney General Justin Matheny, who is representing Secretary Michael Watson.

After court, Secretary Michael Watson pointed out that the decision in this case could impact the five initiatives currently filed.

“Three or four of those have reached the petition process where they’re gathering signatures now,” noted Watson. “So, depending on what the court decides that would change perhaps depending on how many signatures they already gotten from each district.”

Mary Butler briefly commented as she left the courthouse.

“It’s in the judges’ hands and maybe this is a defining moment for Mississippi and this will open doors to possibly take care of other antiquated laws within our state,” Butler noted.

But Initiative 65 advocates question that explanation.

“For anybody to say that this was brought forth because of any other reason I think we certainly know that this is about medical marijuana not about the five or four congressional districts,” said advocate Angie Calhoun.

The justices did not give a specific timeline on when they plan to issue a ruling but indicated they plan to move as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, the State Board of Health is still moving forward with setting up the rules and regulations of the program, as defined by Initiative 65.

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