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Mississippi’s attorney general and secretary of state are defending a medical marijuana initiative – which was approved by voters by a large margin – in court.

According to the Associated Press, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed the lawsuit in late October. She argues that Initiative 65 should be overturned because it limits cities’ ability to regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses.

The attorney general’s office filed arguments Monday on behalf of Secretary of State Michael Watson, explicitly attacking the entire premise of the mayor’s baseless lawsuit.

Butler argues that the initiative process in the Mississippi Constitution is outdated because it requires petitioners to gather an equal number of signatures from five congressional districts, notes the AP.

After the 2000 Census, based on populationc hanges, Mississippi dropped from five congressional districts to four. Butler argues that this creates a mathematical impossibility and that with four districts, more than one-fifth of the signatures must come from each.

However, the state argued Monday that Mississippi law still mentions the state having five congressional districts.

“As a result, four congressional districts exist in Mississippi under a federal injunction for congressional elections, but five congressional districts exist under state law and may be used for anything but congressional elections,” the state attorneys wrote.

The Mississippi attorney general’s office issued a legal opinion in 2009 saying that initiative sponsors should collect signatures from the five congressional districts used in the 1990s. However, in September 2019, then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said the medical marijuana initiative qualified for the ballot because petition sponsors had enough signatures from each of those five districts.

The AP states that in a December 8 filing with the Mississippi Supreme Court, Butler’s attorneys said legislators have known for years about the problem in the initiative process but have killed multiple proposals to fix it. The attorneys said the secretary of state should not have relied on an attorney general’s opinion about signatures coming from the five outdated districts. They argued that doing so amounted to one executive-branch agency listening to another, when decisions should be made by the legislative branch.

Initiative 65 specifies that the state Health Department has until mid-2021 to establish rules for a medical marijuana program.

The Health Department, the Mississippi Municipal League and some others have filed briefs supporting Butler’s lawsuit. The Health Department argued that Initiative 65 seeks to transform the department “into something it is not,” even as the department is stretched because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Rather than allowing the agency to focus its resources entirely on public health, it requires MSDH to get in the business of appropriations, agriculture, packaging and transport, advertising, marketing and penalty schemes —- just to name a few,” wrote attorneys representing the Health Department.



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