TUPELO • A Mississippi Supreme Court ruling will not only ignite political dispute over the future of medical cannabis in the state but also over the future of the voter initiative process itself.
Supporters of medical marijuana were quick to voice displeasure with a Friday ruling that voided the results of the Initiative 65 election. But voices also began to emerge calling for efforts to revive the ability of citizens to directly place a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
These voices included Northeast Mississippi's Brandon Presley, a Democratic Public Service commissioner.
"Mississippians deserve the right to DIRECTLY impact their state government through the initiative and referendum process of gathering signatures to amend the state constitution, no matter the issue or whether I agree with the cause," Presley wrote in a statement on Facebook.
Under the ruling of the Supreme Court majority, the current constitutional provisions for a voter initiative only allow a valid initiative to occur when the state has five congressional districts. The state has had only four congressional districts for 20 years now, and will continue to have four districts for at least the next decade.
The Legislature still has the power to put a referendum on the ballot, as it did so in 2020.
An end — or at least a hiatus — to the voter initiative process occurs even as signature-driven referendums have three times amended the constitution: Initiative 65, Initiative 27 and Initiative 31.
All three initiatives occurred after the loss of Mississippi's fifth congressional seat following the 2000 census.
Initiative 65 provided for medical marijuana and, as the source of the court's ruling last week, has now been voided.
But Initiative 27, which created voter ID laws, and Initiative 31, which prevented certain kinds of eminent domain action, remain law. The high court ruling last week may invite litigation over those initiatives, since they were brought to the ballot using a process the court now deems illegitimate.
The Legislature could put an amendment on the ballot to revise the relevant provision and remove the outdated language about the state's congressional districts.
In the past, legislative efforts to do just that have failed to advance, but there is bound to be at least some pressure now to revisit the issue.
"We must all (Democrats, Republicans, Independents) work hard to reform this process, based on the ruling, and ensure THE PEOPLE’S right to amend the state constitution is held sacred," Presley said last week.
Other officials, however, have been mum about whether they want to restore the validity of the voter initiative process. Some would probably be happy to see it gone. Initiative 65 passed despite strong opposition from many with state government, including Gov. Tate Reeves.
An initiative effort backed by the Mississippi Hospital Association to expand Medicaid eligibility was also just getting underway, but will now be halted by the court's ruling.
The state's Supreme Court has actually once before put an end to voter initiatives, in 1922. The Legislature did eventually move to restore that authority to the voters — after 70 years.