City of Madison continues fight against medical marijuana

Even after 74% of Mississippi voters approved Initiative 65, which is slated to create the state’s first-ever medical marijuana program, the city of Madison and Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler are moving forward with a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the initiative.

Recently, Chelsea Brannon, the attorney representing the city, confirmed that “it is true” that the Mississippi Supreme Court will hear the case, which was filed three days before Election Day 2020 and considered “woefully untimely” by the state’s attorney general.

“The Constitution grants the Supreme Court exclusive and original jurisdiction for the very specific, narrowly-tailored argument that we made about the deficiency of the process,” Brannon said. “In the order that they recently issued, they confirmed that they had that jurisdiction and set a briefing schedule for this particular issue.”

The gist of the argument presented by Madison, the city as opposed to the county, is that Medical Marijuana 2020 (MM2020), the group originally behind Initiative 65, did not obtain an equal number of signatures from the state’s old five congressional districts. While the current constitutional provision, which has not been updated, does require signatures from the previously zoned districts, Mississippi was apportioned four congressional districts following the 2000 United States Census.

For Butler, one of her biggest issues with Initiative 65 is the effect that a medical marijuana program may have on zoning and law enforcement.

“Initiative 65 proposed to change our constitution to add provisions that create problems for municipalities, like restrictions on zoning and limitations on law enforcement,” the longtime mayor said. “We don’t believe these proposed changes were properly or constitutionally brought to the voters.”

Initiative 65 states that nothing in the article will affect any public laws, ordinances, regulations, or rules as they currently stand—other than qualified and approved patients being able to legally utilize marijuana for medicinal purposes. It also states that zoning provisions for dispensaries will be aligned with those currently set for pharmacies.

Nevertheless, Butler and her team remain confident with the litigation.

“We believe our argument has merit, and we are thankful the Supreme Court is giving us an opportunity to be heard,” she said.

On the other hand, Jamie Grantham of MM2020 believes the lawsuit has no basis and is the last resort for a local government that has historically been against the legalization of medical marijuana.

“The secretary of state properly qualified Initiative 65 under the same constitutional procedures used for every other successful voter initiative,” Grantham said. “The lawsuit from the city of Madison is meritless and simply a last-ditch effort by political and bureaucratic opponents to deny relief to patients with 22 specific debilitating medical conditions.”

In September of 2019, then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann stated that Initiative 65 had qualified for the ballot, because petition sponsors had, in fact, gathered enough signatures from each of the state’s five old districts.

According to the order filed by the Mississippi Supreme Court, Butler is required to submit a brief by or on December 7 with Secretary of State Michael Watson required to file prior to December 29. Butler and the city of Madison must reply to Watson’s brief by January 7, 2021.

You can read the full order here.