Not much excuse for the debacle invalidating the people’s vote on medical marijuana. The governor and legislative leaders have known about the problem with the constitutional amendment initiative for years, but they did nothing. Now, the Mississippi Supreme Court has called their hands and invalidated the initiative process and, as a consequence, the Initiative 65 results.
To recap. Medical Marijuana proponents gathered enough signatures to put Initiative 65 on the ballot. It passed easily. However, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins had challenged the process at the last minute. She argued initiative language based on five congressional districts could not work with the current four congressional districts. The Supreme Court justices agreed, six to three.
“The reduction in Mississippi’s congressional representation renders article 15,
section 273(3), unworkable and inoperable on its face,” wrote Justice Josiah Dennis Coleman in his majority opinion.
Lamentations still reverberate around the state from medical marijuana advocates. They feel, uh, torque wrenched. After all, initiatives establishing voter ID laws (#27) and limiting eminent domain (#31) were approved with only four congressional districts. The Supreme Court did not address those earlier results.
Calls for a special session to address both the initiative process and the medical marijuana program erupted. Both House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann called for one. However, Gov. Tate Reeves, Reeves, who has sovereign power to call special sessions, appears reluctant.
“We are a long way from being able to make that decision,” Reeves told WAPT News last week.
Well, if and when legislators gather to redo the voter initiative process, hopefully they will not be as shortsighted as the last time. It is foolish to set in constitutional concrete numbers and processes that can change, e.g. the number of congressional districts. Calls to replace “five” with “four” and otherwise stick with current language would make the process useless once again should Mississippi lose another congressional district. That was close to happening this year based on Census numbers.
Smart language could avoid that. For example, instead of saying one-fifth or one-fourth of elector signatures must come from each congressional district, the language could say something like this: the total number of required elector signatures shall be divided by the number of congressional districts existing at the time the petition is initiated to establish the fraction of signatures required from each congressional district.
One other thing. Not all ballot measures should be constitutional initiatives. The medical marijuana initiative is one of those, since it proposed to put administrative processes into the constitution. Quite likely within the next decade, those processes will need to be changed or updated. Many states, including Arkansas, provide for statutory initiatives for such matters.
As they (hopefully) take a smarter approach to constitutional initiatives, our legislators should also consider a smarter approach to initiatives period. Providing for statutory initiatives would best accomplish Speaker Gunn’s belief in “the right of the people to use the initiative process to express their views on public policy.” And it would keep our constitution from becoming as cluttered as the Mississippi Code.
“The Lord preserves those who are true to Him, but the proud He pays back in full.” – Psalm 31.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.