In an unfortunate turn of events, Mississippi citizens will have to wait even longer to sign petitions for an upcoming ballot initiative broadening marijuana legalization in the state.
According to the Secretary of State’s Office on Friday, an error in the process of notifying the public of the intent took place when five news media outlets were not notified as dictated by state law.
How Initiative 65 Would Expand Mississippi’s Medical Marijuana Program
The proposed ballot Initiative 65 addressed the legalization of growing, possessing, and using marijuana, as well as authorizing a 7% sales tax on products, and allowing citizens to smoke cannabis wherever tobacco products are allowed. This piece of legislation would replace Initiative 6, the current approved medical marijuana law that was passed by voters last November.
State law dictates that the Secretary of State is required to publish the title and summary of each proposed initiative within 10 days of documentation being filed with their office. The notice is required to be published in “a newspaper or newspapers of general circulation” in the state.
Michael Watson, the current Secretary of State, gave a news briefing stating that the information was disseminated to the Mississippi Press Association (MPA). It’s affiliate Mississippi Press Services (MPS) followed through by distributing the notice; however, five newspapers on the required list did not receive the needed information.
Layne Bruce is the executive director of MPA and MPS. In a news release, Bruce states that the organizations regret the error.
“We will work diligently to avoid this kind of oversight in the future,” Bruce said.
The Secretary of State has requested that the notice for the new initiative be published in the omitted publications by May 13. This includes the following newspapers: Sea Coast Echo in Bay St. Louis, the Sun Herald in Biloxi/Gulfport, the Rankin County News, the Charleston Sun Sentinel and the Clarksdale Press Register.
After the initial public announcement, the sponsors of the initiative will have 12 months to gather signatures.
Medical Cannabis Initiative in Mississippi Faces Mayoral Pushback
Following the rules set forth by Initiative 65, the Mississippi Health Department is attempting to set regulations for the state medical marijuana program over the next few months. The state Supreme Court heard arguments recently in a lawsuit filed by Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler who seeks to block the initiative with the several arguments about the approved ballot measure.
Butler filed suit just days before the election. She lists several reasons why the ballot is improper, including the limitations it places on a city’s ability to regulate the location of cannabis businesses. She also calls out the state’s initiative process as ‘outdated’.
According to the Mississippi Constitution, petitions are required to gather an equal number of signatures from the five congressional districts. However, after the 2000 Census, the state eliminated one of the five districts without updating the language of the state constitution.
Butler argues that this causes a mathematical impossibility, even though state attorneys disagree with this, stating that Mississippi has two sets of congressional districts — the current four for electing U.S. House members and the old five that are used for other purposes, including the appointment or election of people to other government jobs.
As of now, the Supreme Court has not indicated how long it will take them to rule on the matter. Good luck to Mississippi cannabis activists moving forward, as they gather signatures and try to ensure that the rest of the ballot campaign fares better than it has so far.
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