Secretary of State Michael Watson speaks with media after oral arguments were presented before the state Supreme Court regarding Initiative 65 on medical marijuana Wednesday morning in Jackson. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Secretary of State Michael Watson said the state will not ask the Mississippi Supreme Court for a rehearing after its decision that struck down the voter-passed Initiative 65 medical marijuana program and voided the state ballot initiative process.

Watson in a statement Thursday said that he “strongly considered” asking for a rehearing, but concluded based on case law and the margin of the court’s decision that doing so “would simply delay the inevitable.”

“Rather than giving a sense of false hope and spending taxpayer dollars to no avail, I strongly encourage the governor to reconvene the Legislature in an effort to quickly preserve the will of Mississippians ….” Watson said.

The high court on May 14, in a 6-3 split decision, ruled in favor of Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, who filed a challenge to Initiative 65 just days before voters approved it on Nov. 3.

READ MORE: Mississippi Supreme Court overturns medical marijuana Initiative 65

Watson renewed his support for the governor calling a special session for lawmakers to deal with medical marijuana and the ballot initiative — a call many voters and some legislative leaders have joined. He said lawmakers should move to protect two past constitutional amendments voters approved through ballot initiative, requiring government issued identification to vote and limiting government’s ability to take land from private owners.

“Not only should the Legislature address medical marijuana, but it should also take steps to make moot any possible legal challenges to Voter ID and Eminent Domain, both of which passed with overwhelming support from voters,” Watson said.

In Butler v. Watson, the mayor successfully argued that Mississippi’s ballot initiative process is Constitutionally flawed and Initiative 65 was not legally before voters. She said a provision requiring an equal number of signatures from Mississippi’s five congressional districts could not be met, because Mississippi has only had four districts for two decades.

The ruling also voided the state’s ballot initiative process that allows voters to take matters in hand and pass Constitutional amendments. The court ruled that the state’s ballot initiative process is “unworkable and inoperative” until lawmakers and voters fix state law and the Constitution.


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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.