The Mississippi Supreme Court on Friday struck down a medical marijuana legalization initiative that voters had overwhelmingly approved last November, shattering a market that was potentially worth more than $250 million in its first year of operation.
The loss is believed to mark the first time an MMJ initiative has been overturned after residents approved it at the ballot box.
Mississippians passed the initiative at the polls in November by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.
The decision derails what was expected to be a huge, business-friendly MMJ market in the Deep South.
The 2021 MJBizFactbook projected that a Mississippi medical cannabis industry would have generated $265 million in sales in the first full year and $800 million annually by the fourth year.
This is the second time in less than a month that a Southern state’s highest court has ruled against marijuana measures. In April, the Florida Supreme Court rejected an adult-use measure slated for the 2022 ballot.
In the Mississippi case, six justices ruled that the MMJ initiative was invalid because it didn’t meet the state’s initiative process requiring that 20% of the signatures come from each of five congressional districts.
The problem is that Mississippi went from five to four congressional districts after the 2000 Census, but numerous legislative efforts to update the citizen ballot initiative language faltered.
Three justices dissented, saying in effect that Mississippi’s secretary of state rightfully put the measure on the ballot.
“The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi,” Ken Newburger, executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said in a statement.
“The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent of the constitution and takes away people’s constitutional right.
“It’s a sad day for Mississippi when the Supreme Court communicates to a vast majority of the voters that their vote doesn’t matter.”
In a statement, Matthew Schweich, deputy director at the Marijuana Policy Project, called the state Supreme Court’s decision a “deeply flawed ruling” that marks a “cruel and tragic day for sick and suffering people in Mississippi.”
“The legislature must take action to fix the ballot initiative requirements and honor the will of their constituents by enacting Amendment 65 into law through the legislative process,” Schweich wrote.
The Mississippi State Department of Health already had started developing regulations in preparation for issuing licenses by mid-August.
“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,” Justice Josiah Coleman wrote in the majority opinion.
“To work in today’s reality, it will need amending – something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”
Jeff Smith can be reached at [email protected].