Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Sid Salter: Will Mississippi voters regain the ability to engage in the voter referendum process?

 As the 2022 regular session of the Mississippi Legislature moves forward, the question of the future of medical marijuana in the Magnolia State remains in limbo. Lawmakers appear in agreement on a plan to move forward on the issue, but Gov. Tate Reeves has other ideas.

Reeves rendered the issue moot prior to lawmakers returning for the current session by simply not calling a special session to address it. But now that lawmakers have returned, the governor has floated a pledge to veto a medical marijuana bill that doesn’t comply with his vision of it.


In the 2020 elections, Mississippi voters approved a voter initiative authorizing a medical marijuana program outlined in Initiative 65 over the express objections of the majority of legislative leaders. Mississippi voters gave Initiative 65 a 73.7% approval while giving the legislative alternative Initiative 65A only 26.3% of the vote.


The pro-marijuana initiative outpolled Republican incumbent President Donald Trump by some 20 percentage points with state voters — even outpolling the state’s 72.98% decision to change the state flag. 


But the results of that referendum were nullified by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The state’s high court ruled that the state’s 1992 ballot initiative process was flawed because the Legislature failed for a number of years to address the impact of Mississippi’s congressional reapportionment loss of a congressional district in 2001 on the constitutional provision controlling that process.


Bottom line, the court ruled that the state’s initiative process is broken and that since Initiative 65 was put in motion through that flawed process and procedures, the medical marijuana initiative could not stand despite voter support.


So, lawmakers now face two challenges – first addressing the thorny issue of medical marijuana in a way that respects the voters and then finding a way to restore and repair the ballot initiative process. Both of those challenges are fraught with political danger.


Lawmakers have avoided approving medical marijuana efforts for decades because they don’t want to be subjected to allegations that they are somehow “soft” on drugs from potential challengers. That is particularly true when the lawmakers are facing legislative redistricting.


Ballot initiatives negate the primacy of the Mississippi Legislature as an institution – and while most lawmakers won’t say so publicly, they aren’t overjoyed at sharing that power.


Hence, Mississippians have been fighting over what would seem the very straightforward power of state voters to bypass the legislature and directly propose state constitutional changes for the better part of a century. 


In the alternative, lawmakers face explaining why they failed to fix the process that gave voters the power they believed they had prior to the high court’s recent ruling on Initiative 65. 


As noted on prior column on this topic, the modern initiative process in Mississippi is one that was designed by the legislature to be difficult for those citizens who wish to circumvent lawmakers and get into the business of directly writing or changing laws for themselves.


Since 1993, there have been 66 instances in which various Mississippi citizens or groups have attempted to utilize the state’s initiative process. Like a carton of milk left unconsumed, 52 of those attempts simply expired for lack of certified signatures or other procedural deficiencies.


Few voter initiatives rocked legislators more than Initiative 42, which sought to put “adequate and efficient” public school funding in the state constitution and empower the state’s chancery courts to enforce such funding. It failed, but by a tight margin.


Initiative 42 not only made it to the ballot, but it also became the defining issue in the 2015 statewide elections. From start to finish, the pro-42 effort was a well-oiled, well-financed political effort. 


On Initiative 65, the political lessons of Initiative 42 were evident in the relatively easy passage of the medical marijuana plan. Today, the rhetoric of politicians supporting a “fix” to the broken voter initiative process is free and easy. Just as the initial adoption of the modern initiative process was difficult, so, too, will be the “fix.”


Will Mississippi voters – in this national environment of political distrust - accept losing their prior ability to influence their own destinies through ballot initiatives? The answer is “no” and the push to restore that process will likely be bipartisan.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at


Anonymous said...

I just want my pot.

Anonymous said...

The only way that happens is if they refuse to pass reasonable medical cannabis legislation.

Anonymous said...

Again, Sid is just out of touch with what’s going on in the legislature. There is no interest, outside a handful, to work on an initiative Bill. It’s not even being discussed nor is it on anyone’s agenda. Poor Sid.

Anonymous said...

i guess we just have to get our weed the old fashioned matter what the voters say..

Greasy palms in the capitol said...

It's a recreational marijuana bill disgui$ed as a "medical" marijuana bill.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else hate the Legislature? Here is an idea: whoever is running should campaign on this “Legislator X claims to be a conservative yet refuses to trust the people with an initiative.”

The initiative process is a no brainer but hey we will laugh about it tonight at Koestler or tomorrow at Ely’s…

And they have a billion dollars to misspend this session. Conservative

Anonymous said...

Legislature is happy to sit back and blame the supreme court. They will milk that for years.

Anonymous said...

If the legislature can get away with having a democracy in name only, they will. In their own minds, they know what is best for us.

Anonymous said...

Hard to get past the opening couple of paragraphs of Salter's opinion here, due to his total misstatement of facts.

1) The legislature does not seem to be in agreement on the MM program - granted, that is what the leadership tried to say last fall but evidence is proving that their assessment of their members' positions might have been slightly skewed.

Truth is, they thought they could push the legislators to pass the compromised bill put together by a couple of members if they had a special session when the members would want to get back home quick. If it went into a regular session, they would not be rushed but instead would be willing to discuss, amend, file other bills - all that messy legislative stuff.

2) The Governor's statement was that he would call a special session when there was an agreement negotiated. But, unlike what Salter tends to mimic what Blackwell/Yancy say - that agreement was between the THREE parts to the legislative process: House, Senate AND Governor. Yes, he gets a voice in the passage of legislation. He doesn't get to draft it, but wise legislative leaders would at least include his opinion in the development of the proposed plan when they want to avoid the normal process of a regular session.

3) There was not a 73% vote. Enough said. This has been well discussed previously, has been debunked despite the weed lobby wanting to continue the narrative and Salter just chooses to mimic them. (Guess maybe that's what Salter has turned into now, a mimic.) The Secretary of State website has the actual numbers, as required by the statue regarding the former I&R process. Hell, even Gerrard Gibbert got it right the other day on his Supertalk program in explaining (again) that this narrative is wrong.

Sid -- if Gibbert can understand and explain this, surely you are up to the task. That is, if you wanted to try to be an honest broker in the game.

Maybe I'll go back and try to read the rest of his gibberish - but first I think I'll straighten up my sock drawer.

Krusatyr said...

Let MS be the state that keeps MJ and all the nasty drugs it enables outta our kids' air, lungs, blood and brains. God bless Gov Reeves. G'damn MJ.

Anonymous said...

@9:25, good. Plant....grows out of the ground

Anonymous said...

11:42, the kids already have as much as they want. Its the law abiding adults who are asking for this. Pot is as prevalent now as alcohol was during the 50's.

Anonymous said...

Well Mississippi is and always will be the last at everything. So just be prepared if you are citizen of the $hitH0le state that cannabis legalization will not come until every other state in the union legalizes first.

If MS is good at one thing, it's being bass akwards and the very last align with the current times. Hence- brain drain problem, intense poverty, poor literacy rates, etc.

Anonymous said...

@2:04 PM - prove it! You can't.

Anonymous said...

3:26, I can’t “prove it” but ask any cop, teacher or youth minister and they’ll tell you it’s true. Pot is probably the least of our worries with this generation.

Anonymous said...

Legislature has moved on to bigger and better things. Like keeping us dumb, fat and poor. Best way to stay elected, give dumb, poor, fat people what they want. Trump mastered that strategy.

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine the stupid sheet that Mississippians would come up with if they made it easy to amend the constitution? No thanks.

Anonymous said...

3:26, what world do you live in? Kids at MC are passing out like flies from the crap they vape in the bathroom. As always, we are focused on the wrong thing. Vapes are legally available and the stuff you can put in them will literally blow your mind. Kids don’t even want pot any more. That’s so 80s.

Anonymous said...

Very reckless and slow driver almost hit several motorists yesterday. That skunk smell wafting from the vehicle was undeniable at the next light when the car crept up to an eventual stop.
Please dont pass this

Anonymous said...

The legislature doesn't want to give up one bit of legislative control to citizens.

And, that the majority of Mississippi voters support legalization as stated on the ballot, is something that should be respected.

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If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

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