Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Sid Salter: Legislature headed to medical marijuana vote, but initiative process fix a longer shot

Sources in both the Mississippi Senate and House spoke publicly in recent days to their belief that a compromise has been reached between the two chambers on a medical marijuana statute that will salvage much of what was lost when state voters overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana voter initiative only to see it overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Gov. Tate Reeves still has the final say on issuing a special session call.

This writer studied the 12-page Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act that purports to be the compromise legislation. It appears to be a reasonable, thoughtful salvage of the nullified voter initiative’s benefits without many of the negatives written into the initiative by the pro-marijuana lobby.

In other words, the proposed law takes care of suffering patients who need relief without putting retail marijuana sales in the state constitution.

But one thing appears clear – even if Reeves issues the special session call and lawmakers quickly dispatch passage of a new medical marijuana statute, the underlying issue of a broken, outdated initiative process won’t even be addressed in the special session. A fix to those issues is at the very least still over a year away.

In the 2020 election cycle, Mississippi voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of authorizing a medical marijuana initiative as outlined in Initiative 65 over the express objections of most legislative leaders. The voters gave Initiative 65 a 73.7% approval while giving the legislative alternative Initiative 65A only 26.3% of the vote.

The central objection from legislators and other levels of Mississippi government? Initiative 65 gave the new marijuana industry in Mississippi constitutional protection. But there are other concerns. Local governments didn’t want it any more than did state government. The Mississippi State Board of Health and State Department of Health were opposed. The American and Mississippi medical associations opposed the initiative, as did significant state and local political, law enforcement and religious figures.

But the voters, sympathetic to the perceived need for some type of medical marijuana program for patients who need it and tired of decades of legislative inaction on the issue, literally took matters into their own hands behind a well-organized, well-funded campaign from primarily out-of-state industry backers.

Last year, a legal challenge questioning the legality of Secretary of State Michael Watson’s certification of the initiative to be placed on the ballot based on the contention that it was done in violation of Section 273 of Article 15 of the Mississippi Constitution: “The signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.”

The problem is that since Mississippi’s initiative process was adopted in 1992, when Mississippi had five congressional districts. Following the 2000 Census, Mississippi was one of 18 states that lost a congressional district — moving from five to the present four — but the procedures guiding the initiative process were never updated to reflect that.

Both Watson and his predecessor, now Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, say they relied on opinions from the state Attorney General’s Office in following the 1992 voter initiative guidelines for certifying signatures. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruling that derailed the state’s medical marijuana initiative put the flawed initiative process on display for all to see. The state’s press has written about it for years, but it brought no official remedy forward.

Now that the high court has nullified Initiative 65, it would seem the Legislature faces changing the initiative process’ procedures that lawmakers crafted in 1992 – but that requires voter approval of any changes offered in the 2022 regular legislative session next November.

In the alternative, lawmakers face explaining why they failed to fix the process that gave voters the power they believed they had before the high court ruled on Initiative 65. To be sure, the modern initiative process in Mississippi is one that the Mississippi Legislature designed to be difficult for those citizens who wish to circumvent lawmakers and get into the business of directly writing or changing laws for themselves.

That process will likely become even more difficult moving forward.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at



Anonymous said...

The Republicans were saving their challenge to the voter initiative for a special occasion and medical marijuana is what they decided was important enough to sacrifice their queen. Pathetic all the way around. The way this state works, I’d be shocked if they hadn’t already heard what the Supreme Court decision would be even before they gave Mayor Karen the go ahead to file the paperwork. We need to vote out every anti democracy legislator in the state and start fresh.

Anonymous said...

Both parties hate the Initiative.

It's terrifying to them that voters may become enlightened enough to act in their own interests and dilute the ability to get money from special interests.

Nothing is better for their pockets than to have a bill that is " sound and fury signifying nothing".

Anonymous said...

I don’t care what they do as long as they get this passed. I have been on disability for 15 years due to my crippling autism. Medical Cannabis will make my suffering bearable. Especially during these unprecedented times.

Anonymous said...

What a great conversation.

I love how people who voted for this initiative scream “do the will of the people”.

Yet the when people also overwhelmingly voted to KEEP the state flag, they cried that they wanted the state leadership to take action and remove it.

So which is it? Popular vote or legislative action to get something done?

I guess it depends on if you cause is winning or losing.

Anonymous said...

10:43 AM, you and your medical condition are the example of what this bill should be about! But politicians and greedy business people are looking for profit. Separate medical marijuana from everything else in this bill NOW!

Anonymous said...

Yeah I hate it when those pesky voters get in the way of lawmakers. Can’t have that I mean there would be nothing but conflict. Lawmakers always know what’s right. That’s why they sat on their thumbs for twenty years and did nothing. No wonder the voters think the whole damn debacle was staged. And yet it drags on and on with republicans somehow believing there won’t be a price to pay come November 2023. The new manure coming out of Tate is he’s not calling the session because HE wants the THC levels lowered. Odd he never mentioned it before now. Leave it to an ( insert bad name here because the JJ will censor you) who’s only experience with pain is when the tit was pulled out of his mouth to make decisions for kids having seizures and people hurting. Sad really.

Anonymous said...

I doubt the integrity of anybody who claims, "I have crippling autism". Really.

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