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AFP, Physicians among filers supporting...

AFP, Physicians among filers supporting Secretary Watson’s position in Madison Mayor’s challenge of Medical Marijuana Initiative 65

By: Frank Corder - January 5, 2021

After a slew of amicus briefs were filed with the Mississippi Supreme Court in support of Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s challenge of the medical marijuana Initiative 65 back in December, defenders of the referendum filed their own friend of the court briefs ahead of the court ordered deadline.

<<READ MORE: Amicus briefs pile up in support of Madison Mayor’s case against Medical Marijuana Initiative 65.>>

Butler is questioning whether Initiative 65 was properly before Mississippi voters in the November General Election.  The referendum passed with nearly 74% of voters approving the constitutional amendment, giving the Mississippi Department of Health oversight and administration of the medical marijuana program.  MSDH has supported Butler’s challenge, saying that there are many content problems with the amendment, including “its wide-ranging scope and conflicts with existing state and federal law.”

Secretary of State Michael Watson, the respondent in the case, has maintained that the process used was similar to what has occurred in the past, with the former Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann relying on an Attorney General’s opinion by then AG Jim Hood.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch is representing Watson in his official capacity as Secretary of State. She filed their response on December 28th requesting oral arguments. Fitch wrote, in part:

“For years, medical marijuana has been a subject of fervid political debate. In Mississippi, the recent passage of Measure 65 has obviously further intensified that policy debate. The Secretary of State is not taking a side in the policy debate and, of course, is not asking this Court to take a side either.

“This said, the question before this Court is not Measure 65’s substantive content, or whether or not medical marijuana is good or bad policy. Rather, the issue is a pure question of law: whether the State’s initiative petition process, established by Section 273(3) of our Constitution and applicable to every initiative petition, is currently viable. The Secretary of State, sued here only as a custodian of the petition process, simply asks that this Court resolve this issue by exercising its authority and responsibility to interpret Section 273(3)’s plain text and thereby give effect to the Legislature’s intent.

“Faithfully analyzing the Constitution’s text ultimately proves the initiative petition process in Mississippi is alive and well. A plain reading of Section 273(3) demonstrates that utilizing the five congressional districts currently existing under state law in gathering initiative petition signatures is entirely appropriate. For that reason, among others detailed below, petitioners’ belated procedural challenge to the initiative petition process fails, along with their claim’s potential to destroy all of the State’s initiative enactments over the past nearly 20 years.”

The latest amicus briefs filed in support of the referendum’s validity and backing Watson’s position come from the following:

  • Americans for Prosperity (AFP)
  • Ashley Ann Durval, the sponsor of Initiative 65
  • Angie Calhoun
  • Physicians Zachary K. Baldwin, Justin Daniels, Timothy D. Estes, Claude Harbarger, Richard Scott Johnson, Fred Earl Kency Jr., Sharon T. LaRose, Michael Manning, Nathan McIntosh, Jule P. Miller, III, Michael L. Sanders, and Matthew B. Wesson
  • Medical Advocates Jessica Boykin, Christy Dunaway, and Mississippi Sickle Cell Foundation

AFP agrees that the Mississippi Secretary of State properly approved Initiative 65 for placement on the November statewide ballot but says its interest in the case reaches beyond election and Initiative 65.

“AFPMS is interested in preserving into the future the ability of its grassroots members to sponsor and support amendments to the Mississippi Constitution via ballot initiative. This Petition threatens that ability,” writes APF’s attorney Spencer Ritchie.

Durval is the mother of a daughter, Harper Grace, who has a rare type of epilepsy that causes violent seizures. As the sponsor of Initiative 65, she is backing the referendum and seeks to be heard by the court.

“With the assistance of highly qualified healthcare providers and legal counsel and relying on the people’s repeatedly recognized right to amend their Constitution, Ashley authored Initiative 65 and gained the public approval of the Secretary of State and Attorney General in August of 2018,” her attorneys, Michael Gwin and Paul Stephenson, state.  “Ashley thereafter diligently pursued the collection of the signatures of some 228,000 Mississippi voters on her petition in support of placement of Initiative 65 on the November 3, 2020 election ballot. She secured the Secretary of State’s favorable determination of the sufficiency of her petition.”

Calhoun, whose son benefitted from out-of-state medical marijuana therapy, along with the list of physicians and medical advocates filed their brief “in opposition of the positions asserted by amici Mississippi State Medical Association, American Medical Association and Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association.”  The group’s attorney is William Trey Jones.

The Court set January 7 as the deadline for a response from Mayor Butler.  The case could be set for oral arguments soon thereafter.

About the Author(s)
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Frank Corder

Frank Corder is a native of Pascagoula. For nearly two decades, he has reported and offered analysis on government, public policy, business and matters of faith. Frank’s interviews, articles, and columns have been shared throughout Mississippi as well as in national publications such as the Daily Caller. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, providing insight and commentary on the inner workings of the Magnolia State. Frank has served his community in both elected and appointed public office, hosted his own local radio and television programs, and managed private businesses all while being an engaged husband and father. Email Frank: