As a Mississippi mayor sues the state over medical cannabis, the attorney general of Mississippi, Lynn Fitch, as well as Secretary of State Michael Watson, are on the side of the medical initiative. This is surprising to many, as both Fitch and Watson are Republicans.
The mayor of Madison, Mary Hawkins Butler, initially filed the lawsuit in October, before medical cannabis even passed, claiming that Initiative 65 would limit the abilities of cities to control where medical cannabis businesses are built. While the initiative passed back in November by a significant number of votes, she is still hoping to see it overturned.
However, so far, she is not getting a lot of support from major players in the state. The attorney general’s office is arguing in support of the secretary of state’s office against the lawsuit.
Butler is claiming that she has a leg to stand on because the initiative process is outdated, since it requires the same number of signatures from five congressional districts. Mississippi no longer has five congressional districts; since 2000, they have four.
The restructuring happened because of fighting over partisan issues, and the lines being redrawn on a federal level. Therefore, it no longer works to say that all five districts need an equal number of signatures.
“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 attorney’s office claims in their argument.
Does The Lawsuit Stand A Chance?
This argument may not hold up, however, as the state’s attorney general’s office officially claimed that signatures should be based on the five districts back in 2009, even though the lines had changed on a federal level. The secretary of state back in 2019, Delbert Hoseman, said the initiative should qualify based on that.
Earlier this month, Butler’s attorneys responded, saying that legislators have known about this issue for years, and that the current opinion about signatures from all five districts should not still be the one in use. They claimed that legislative branches, not just executive, should have more of a say in the matter.
So far the Mississippi Health Department and Mississippi Municipal League are in support of Butler. In the case of the Health Department, they are claiming that they do not have time to regulate and establish an industry, as they are already overwhelmed dealing with COVID.
“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,” the Health Department’s official statement claims.
While this lawsuit is holding up the newly legal industry, there is still time for Initiative 65 to get up and running. The rules state that it needs to be up and running by mid-2021, not at the very beginning of the year. Hopefully, with the support it is receiving, legal, medical cannabis will be able to overcome the obstacles and remain a reality in Mississippi.