A brief filed last week with the state Supreme Court by attorneys for the city of Madison in a case that could kill the state’s medical marijuana program before it even starts reiterates that the ballot initiative process is flawed since it is predicated on five congressional districts rather than the four that exist now.
The brief also refutes the argument made by Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office that the lawsuit could’ve been filed when then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann submitted it to the Legislature in January 2020. It says that the 10 months between that filing and the lawsuit filed by the city don’t constitute an inexcusable delay.
Attorneys for the city of Madison say that the city has standing (the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court that it is both connected and harmed by a law or action) to bring the case since passage of Initiative 65 would limit the city’s zoning rights. The text of Initiative 65 restricts the rights of municipalities to prevent marijuana dispensaries, saying that they should be no more restrictive than those for a retail pharmacy.
On January 5, attorneys for the city of Madison also filed a brief that asks the court to deny the motion filed by Ashley Durval (who filed the original paperwork to get Initiative 65 on the ballot) to have her attorneys participate in the upcoming oral arguments in the case.
They said in their brief that her participation is unnecessary and unhelpful, but they also don’t object to her amicus (friend of the court) brief filed in support in Initiative 65.
In addition to Durval, a group of doctors filed an amicus brief disputing the case against Initiative 65 in response to briefs filed by the state medical association and the Mississippi Association of Sheriffs.
Also filing a brief in support of the initiative was the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
Other groups filing briefs in support of the city of Madison’s lawsuit included the state Department of Health and the Mississippi Municipal League, which is the advocacy group for municipalities statewide.
The original lawsuit, which was filed on October 26 just days before the election, is asking the state Supreme Court to throw out Initiative 65, which would create a medical marijuana program in the state and was approved by 73 percent of voters in the November 3 election.
In a brief filed December 8, attorneys for the city of Madison reiterated their argument on the ballot initiative law. This law, passed in 1992, requires at least 17,237 certified signatures from each of the five old congressional districts — as they existed in 2000 — for a total of 86,185 for a ballot initiative to make it onto the ballot.
The lawsuit and briefs from both the original plaintiffs and those in support of killing Initiative 65 say that it is unconstitutional since there are four congressional districts and the number of signatures submitted from at least one of the four districts exceeds the one-fifth of the total number required.
The petition says that the state Constitution prohibits the secretary of state from considering any signatures exceeding one-fifth of the total number of signatures required and state law prohibits the secretary of state from putting an initiative on the ballot that doesn’t meet the standard.
Seven times the Legislature has proposed concurrent resolutions to change the law since 2003 and all of them have failed. The secretary of state’s office replaced the language of “any congressional district” to “from each of the five congressional districts as they existed in the year 2000” in 2009.
The change was endorsed by an opinion from the state attorney general at the time, Jim Hood, but these opinions fail to carry the weight of law.
In a reply submitted by the secretary of state’s office last month, the attorneys argue that if the court rules in favor of the city of Madison’s interpretation of the ballot initiative law, existing constitutional amendments passed through the process besides Initiative 65 such as voter identification and protections against eminent domain could also be challenged and overturned using the same argument.