December 18, 2020 10:10:50 AM
The United States is commonly referred to as a democracy which -- while true in the broadest sense - is not entirely accurate. We are, in fact, a democratic republic, which means citizens exercise their right to vote (the democratic part) to choose those who will make the laws that govern our nation (the republic part).
But what happens when those chosen to govern subvert the clear will of the public?
In Mississippi, as it is in most states, citizens have the right to override the decisions of their elected representatives through ballot initiatives that amend the state constitution.
That's what happened in November. After dozens of bills that would establish a medical marijuana program in the state languished in the Legislature, voters took the matters to the polls and voted by an almost 3-to-1 margin to change the constitution to establish a medical marijuana law.
The amendment stipulated that the program would be administered by the state's health department and was supposed to begin operations in August, but there has been no real effort to begin work on the myriad details needed to meet that deadline.
The delay has been created by a challenge filed by the city of Madison just days before the Nov. 6 vote. Madison has filed a suit with the state's Supreme Court to block the program, mainly on procedural grounds. The basic argument is that the petitions collected to place medical marijuana were not equally distributed among the state's five congressional districts, even though the petition effort collected more than twice the number of signatures required.
This seems to us a specious argument. The make-up of the petition was available for almost a year prior to the election. If the city of Madison -- or any other entity -- wanted to challenge the petition on those grounds, there was ample time to do so well ahead of the election. That the suit was filed so close to the election reveals the true motives of the challenge: to deny the people their constitutional right to amend our constitution.
Since the filing a number of groups have filed amicus briefs in support of the Supreme Court challenge, including -- most alarmingly -- the state health department, the very agency which is supposed to administer the program. This, in itself, is beyond regrettable since it raises serious questions about the department's commitment to the program should it withstand the Supreme Court challenge. Nine months before the program is set to begin operations, the credibility of the program is already damaged by the perception that the agency that will run the program doesn't support it.
Meanwhile, the Mississippi Sheriff's Association has filed an amicus brief supporting the suit that is nothing short of embarrassing, conflating medical marijuana with recreational marijuana. Its brief is a long-winded spiel about the evils of marijuana and claims that have been refuted repeatedly by data from other states where medical marijuana programs have been operating for years.
What effect these briefs will have on the Supreme Court are difficult to predict. But it should be noted that our Supreme Court justices are elected and, as a result, generally very conservative.
The case may be weak, but the conservative politics behind it are powerful.
The fundamental principle that is at stake is larger than politics: Do the people have the right under the constitution to amend the constitution?
The answer should be a resounding "yes."
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