Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved a new state flag, legalizing medical marijuana and revising the state Constitution.
In Tuesday’s election, at least 70% of voters approved all three ballot measures.
Each issue has had a long road to finally being approved by the Mississippi electorate, and now, a new flag is set to fly, medical marijuana is set to be legalized and the state constitution is set to be revised.
Mississippi became the 35th state to legalize medical marijuana on Tuesday when voters decisively approved Initiative 65.
Getting medical marijuana on a statewide ballot required about 100,000 petition signatures from Mississippians across the state. Its approval places the issue in the state Constitution and outside the regulatory reach of the Legislature. A medical marijuana program must now be implemented by August 2021.
Many state leaders and lawmakers criticized Initiative 65 as being too broad and argued that it essentially legalized recreational marijuana. In response, lawmakers approved an alternative proposal in March. Dubbed ‘65A,’ the alternative measure set no deadline for implementing a program and would have set much stricter rules for eligibility.
Supporters of the citizen-sponsored initiative said the legislative alternative was designed to confuse voters and result in the defeat of both. Many voters on Tuesday confirmed the former and expressed difficulty understanding the initiative’s text and how to mark their ballots correctly. The ballot required voters to first approve or reject medical marijuana legalization in general and then pick a preference between the two initiatives. Despite the confusion over this, Initiative 65 garnered 74% of the vote.
Despite concerns about the initiative expressed by local law enforcement and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs about the measure, voters opted for the citizen-led initiative over the state legislature’s competing initiative, which would have limited access of medical marijuana to patients with “debilitating illness.”
The initiative that passed will allow medical marijuana for Mississippians who have diseases like cancer, epilepsy, HIV and ALS.
Mississippians embrace a new flag
After years of activism, redesigns and legal actions, Mississippians approved a new state flag on Tuesday’s ballots.
Over 70% of voters across the state approved the ballot measure to accept the new flag, named the “In God We Trust Flag.” In DeSoto County, nearly 75% of voters approved the measure.
The new flag features a magnolia, 20 stars to represent Mississippi being the 20th state in the union, one large star made of diamonds to represent the Native Americans who first lived on the land that is now part of the state, along with the legally mandated phrase “In God We Trust.”
The old flag, which featured a Confederate battle emblem and flew as the official state flag for over a century, was retired earlier this year. The old flag came down amid pressures from protesters, businesses, universities and the NCAA, among other groups.
The flag was removed via the state legislature. In the law passed to remove the flag, two parameters were laid out for the new state flag: no Confederate imagery would be in the new flag, and the phrase “In God We Trust” must be included.
After a selection process that included some public input for over 3,000 designs, the flag selection committee eventually settled on the design that passed in this week’s election.
One group of activists, Let Mississippi Vote, was unhappy with the process of choosing the flag, in which Mississippians were given one flag option on their ballots. The group is gathering signatures for a petition to try to put more options for a new state flag on the ballot, perhaps in 2022.
Removing The House Electoral Provision
Mississippi voters removed a Jim Crow-era provision from the 1890 state Constitution that made Mississippi the only state in the nation where a candidate for statewide office can win the popular vote, but still not be elected.
The provision required the winning candidate for statewide office to receive both the popular vote and win a majority of the 122 House districts. If that criteria was not met, the election was decided by the Legislature. It has only come into play a handful of times in state history, the most recent being the 1999 gubernatorial election of Ronnie Musgrove, where he won the popular vote and was seated by the then Democrat controlled House. `
Many provisions were added to the Constitution for the expressed purpose of diluting Black voting power and preventing Black Missisppians from holding statewide office, including the house electoral provision. Tuesday’s vote marks the first time in state history that one of these provisions has been nullified by Missippians rather than federal action.
Now, only a majority of votes is required to win statewide office. If no candidate receives a majority, the race will be decided by a runoff election.
In September, Gov. Tate Reeves called the initiative to remove the provision a ploy “to help elect Democrats.” The initiative was endorsed by both Republican leaders of the Legislature, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate.