Mississippi: State Supreme Court Nullifies Voter-Approved Medical Cannabis Law

Jackson, MS: A majority of justices on the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 to strike down a 2020 voter-initiated law legalizing the possession and dispensing of cannabis to qualified patients.

On Election Day, 73 percent of Mississippi voters decided in favor of Initiative 65, which establishes a system of state-licensed dispensaries to engage in the retail dispensing of cannabis and cannabis products to patients who possess a doctor’s authorization. Just prior to the vote, officials representing the city of Madison – including the town’s Republican Mayor – filed suit arguing that the legislature’s failure to update guidelines for petitioners should invalidate the initiative vote.

Specifically, state statutes call for petitioners to gather an equal percentage of signatures from five congressional districts.  However, following redistricting in 2000, there are only four congressional districts in the state. Lawmakers since that time have failed to update the statute.

A majority of the Court determined that lawmakers’ failure to update the law makes it impossible for any citizens-led initiative to go forward in the state. They ruled, “Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today’s reality, it will need amending – something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”

In a dissent, Justice James D. Maxwell II affirmed that the ruling has far reaching implications beyond the state’s nascent medical cannabis law. “Not only is this particular initiative dead, but so is Mississippi’s citizen initiative process,” he wrote.

NORML State Policies Manager Carly Wolf criticized the majority’s opinion. “Legalization opponents have shown time and time again that they cannot succeed in either the court of public opinion or at the ballot box. Whether or not one supports marijuana reform, Americans should be outraged at these overtly undemocratic tactics, and as a result, the most vulnerable Mississippians will continue to be denied safe access to a therapy that could offer them significant relief from severely debilitating conditions.”

Following the ruling, some lawmakers, as well as the Secretary of State, have called on the Governor to convene a special legislative session to advance legislation to restore medical cannabis access. However, Republican Governor Tate Reeves has yet to weigh in on the issue. Statewide polling data compiled this week finds that 60 percent of Mississippi voters favor revisiting the issue in a special legislative session.

For more information, contact Carly Wolf, NORML State Policies Manager.