The Mississippi medical cannabis community and all voters that believe in direct democracy had their will and intentions trampled by the state Supreme Court this week in a rather ridiculous ruling that strips voters’ ability to act as a co-equal legislative branch of their government on a rather ridiculous technicality. The text of the state’s constitution that determines the number of signatures required for advocates to place measures before the people reads:
“The people reserve unto themselves the power to propose and enact constitutional amendments by initiative. An initiative to amend the Constitution may be proposed by a petition signed over a twelve-month period by qualified electors equal in number to at least twelve percent (12%) of the votes for all candidates for Governor in the last gubernatorial election. The signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth ( 1/5 ) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot. If an initiative petition contains signatures from a single congressional district which exceed one-fifth ( 1/5 ) of the total number of required signatures, the excess number of signatures from that congressional district shall not be considered by the Secretary of State in determining whether the petition qualifies for placement on the ballot.”
In a 6-3 decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court determined that since the state went from 5 congressional districts down to 4, that the proper decision was to completely invalidate the entire initiative process. This ruling not only invalidates the state’s newly passed medical cannabis law and all future initiatives, but may also negate ballot measures that have passed after the reduction of one federal congressional district. As Law & Crime noted, dissenting Justice Robert Chamberlain rightly declared such an interpretation of the constitution absurd:
In the dissent, Justice Robert Chamberlin said the majority’s ruling “does not avoid absurdity; rather, it invites it.”
“The constitution is presumed capable of ordering human affairs decades beyond the time of ratification under circumstances beyond the prescience of the draftsmen,” he wrote. “The majority’s holding destroys such an ordering less than a decade after adoption, presumably finding legislative incompetence or malevolence and/or a desire of the people to put a self-destruct sequence into the initiative process they granted unto themselves.”
“The majority confidently and correctly points out that ‘[n]owhere therein does the Constitution allow amendment by the Supreme Court.’ Yet the majority does just that—stepping completely outside of Mississippi law—to employ an interpretation that not only amends but judicially kills Mississippi’s citizen initiative process,” Chamberlin added.
As the Clarion Ledger reported, there’s hope for both the Initiative 65 medical cannabis law, passed by 2/3 of voters, as well as the reinstatement of the initiative process with several legislators calling for a special session to adhere to the wishes of their constituents.:
“We 100% believe in the right of the people to use the initiative process to express their views on public policy,” Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said Monday in a statement that did not mention medical marijuana. “If the Legislature does not act on an issue that the people of Mississippi want, then the people need a mechanism to change the law.”
Republican Sen. Scott DeLano of Biloxi said lawmakers should be prepared and willing to move forward with establishing a medical marijuana program this year that is “consistent with the spirit of Initiative 65.”
“The only way for us to be able to do that before January of 2022 is if the governor calls for a special session,” DeLano said Monday. “It’s what the public wanted; it’s what our constituents wanted and what they expected. I believe it’s my duty to do my part in making sure that the will of the voter is heard.”
It can be extremely deflating when you take two steps back after a huge step forward for your cause, but there’s hope that the Mississippi cannabis community may become stronger by overcoming this judicially-imposed obstacle. Advocates have already demonstrated overwhelming majority support for medicinal use and now there is an opportunity to find key legislative allies to implement a medical law AND an initiative process that will set the stage for full legalization in the future. Iron sharpens iron, and withstanding these political battles will only strengthen activists fight for freedom and common sense. Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, who filed the suit to block Initiative 65 because it limits a city’s ability to regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses, may find that she’s won a merely pyrrhic victory as support for ending the war on patients and their providers grows.