The Mississippi Supreme Court heard orally on Wednesday over a constitutional challenge aimed at overturning an initiative to legalize medical marijuana – after voters overwhelmingly approved the measure last November.
At stake is a potentially huge, business-friendly MMJ market in the deep south: the recently published Marijuana Business Factbook 2021 predicts a medical cannabis industry in Mississippi will have sales of $ 265 million in the first full year and 800 in the fourth year Will generate millions of dollars a year.
Efforts are also being made to end legalization of adult use in Montana and South Dakota.
Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph appeared heavily focused on crushing MMJ legalization, and the judges’ key questions were directed to the attorney defending the initiative for the Secretary of State’s office.
However, a legal expert found that some judges were supportive and others did not ask questions. Hence, it is difficult to predict how the Supreme Court will decide.
“It was a little daunting when you were in favor of legalization,” said Whitt Steineker, co-chair of the cannabis practice at Bradley, Alabama, Birmingham-based law firm.
But as “to predict an outcome, I’d probably find something else to bet on if I was at a Mississippi casino.” He said there could be a 5-4 vote.
Prior to the hearing, Carly Wolf, NORML State Policy Manager, issued a statement calling the legal challenge an “overly undemocratic tactic” to try to overthrow the will of voters.
More than 70% of Mississippians voted for the measure, a level of support that surprised even MJ advocates.
The City of Madison filed the legal lawsuit.
The crux of the argument, as worded by Attorney Kaytie Pickett on Wednesday, is that the plain language of a provision in the state’s constitution requires that citizen nominations collect 20% of the signatures from each of the five congressional districts.
But Mississippi lost a congressional district in 2000, and the state legislature has failed to update the initiative language seven times since then.
According to Pickett’s argument, it is mathematically impossible to put a voter initiative on the ballot, since 20% times four congressional districts is only 80%.
Justin Matheny, an attorney defending the initiative for the Secretary of State’s office, argued that the “fairest” way to read the intent of the law is to use five counties as defined in the state code.
Steineker said that if the Mississippi Supreme Court shoots down legalization of MMJ, it will “undo the will of a majority of the people and fundamentally change the ability of Mississippians to use an electoral initiative process for the foreseeable future.”
However, Steineker noted that in the meantime, the state health department is pushing the development of rules and regulations for an MMJ industry in Mississippi by July 1.
Chief Justice Randolph closed the hearing by stating that the judges would deliver an opinion as soon as possible.