Mississippi's Ballot Initiative Needs Decisive Action

By Josiah Dalke
September 7, 2021

Mississippi has been in a precarious constitutional problem for the last couple of months as it has tried to deal with ballot Initiative 65, an initiative that would allow the use of medical marijuana in the state.  The initiative was passed by a wide margin. However, the Mississippi Supreme Court shot down the initiative due to a discrepancy in the Mississippi State Constitution.

During the 1990s, Mississippi passed Section 273, an amendment to the state constitution that establishes the ballot initiative process.  The process requires that a certain number of signatures be gathered from each of the five districts in the state.  The problem is that Mississippi no longer has those five districts.  Due to the 2000 Census, Mississippi now has four districts, and the state legislature never passed anything to resolve the matter.  Thus, when the issue came around as to the legality of the ballot initiative, the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegitimate. This did not happen on account of the people of Mississippi. Rather, it was a legislative oversight. This was a massive omission in Mississippi’s legal and democratic framework.

Many may ask, what’s the big deal?  It’s not even a difference in the number of signatures but the number of districts.  There ultimately is no mathematical difference when we analyze the situation.  The nature of laws is that there is no room for exception, and if there is a bad law in place (or worse, a vague law), proper procedure must be in place in order to remedy it.  The problem is that for the last 20+ years, the state legislature has neglected to do its job and come to a resolution regarding the nature of ballot resolutions, and due to their hesitancy, unintended consequences have arisen.

However, the situation may be even more sinister.  The very nature of the legislature and supreme court keeping a technically erroneous ballot initiative system gives them the extra power to strike down any ballot initiative they dislike.  And yet, who are the ones responsible for fixing the problem?  The very people that have that power: the legislature.  Regardless of personal views of marijuana usage, Mississippi's government should not portray itself as being accountable through ballot initiative and yet keep a technicality on the books that renders the process ineffective.

Last month, lawmakers claimed that they are soon to be resolving the issue with medical marijuana.  However, what continues to be the discussion is how to resolve the problem with ballot initiatives and Mississippi’s constitutional discrepancy.  Mississippi needs to decide if they want to be a ballot initiative state or not.  Right now, it is simply in a state of limbo, acting like it is a ballot initiative state when in reality, it is not.  Accountability needs to be in place at some level.  Mississippi needs decisive action to settle on what that looks like.


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