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Mississippi lawmakers: Revive initiatives, marijuana program

Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn

Some Mississippi lawmakers say they want Gov. Tate Reeves to call them back to the Capitol for a special session to revive the state’s initiative process.

Posted: May 18, 2021 9:34 AM
Updated: May 18, 2021 2:21 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Some Mississippi lawmakers say they want Gov. Tate Reeves to call them back to the Capitol for a special session to revive the state's initiative process. Others want a chance to quickly revive discussion of a medical marijuana program.

The state Supreme Court ruled Friday that the medical marijuana initiative is void because Mississippi’s initiative process is outdated. That effectively killed other initiatives for which people are already petitioning.

“We 100% believe in the right of the people to use the initiative process to express their views on public policy,” Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said Monday in a statement that did not mention medical marijuana. “If the Legislature does not act on an issue that the people of Mississippi want, then the people need a mechanism to change the law."

The Mississippi Legislature usually meets from January to April. Lawmakers can reconvene only if the governor calls them back to the Capitol.

A spokeswoman for Reeves said Monday that the Republican governor is still reviewing the case and has not decided about a special session.

At the heart of the ruling is the fact that initiatives need signatures from five congressional districts to get on the ballot, but because of Mississippi’s stagnant population, the state has only four districts.

The initiative process was added to the Mississippi Constitution in the 1990s as Section 273. It requires petitioners trying to get any initiative on the ballot to gather one-fifth of signatures from each congressional district. Mississippi had five congressional districts at the time that was written. But the state dropped to four after the 2000 census, and language dealing with the initiative process was never updated.

Republican Sen. Jeremy England of Vancleave said Monday that “there seems to be a sense of urgency” among lawmakers on both passing a medical marijuana program and restoring the ballot initiative process.

However, he said the ballot initiative issue could be a lengthy process. Because it would require a constitutional amendment, it would need two-thirds of support from lawmakers, England said. Then, the issue would need to be put on the ballot in the next statewide election, which is in November 2022.

A priority for a special session should be making sure some form of medical marijuana program is approved before the end of the year, England said.

About 1.3 million people voted in Mississippi in November, and more than 766,000 of them voted in favor of Initiative 65. That's about 10,000 more residents than voted for Donald Trump, who won handily the presidential race in the state.

England said a huge amount of money and time has been spent by business owners and the Mississippi Department of Health to implement a medical marijuana program. The department was instructed in Initiative 65 with starting the program by the middle of this year.

England said he believes “the language of Initiative 65 should be our base starting point" for the legislation. However, he said he expects debate and negotiation, especially on issues like taxation.

Republican Sen. Scott DeLano of Biloxi said lawmakers should be prepared and willing to move forward with establishing a medical marijuana program this year that is “consistent with the spirit of Initiative 65.”

“The only way for us to be able to do that before January of 2022 is if the governor calls for a special session,” DeLano said Monday. “It’s what the public wanted; it's what our constituents wanted and what they expected. I believe it’s my duty to do my part in making sure that the will of the voter is heard.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 468498

Reported Deaths: 9100
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison31907468
Hinds30552569
DeSoto29532342
Jackson22868335
Rankin21016355
Lee14393214
Madison13961263
Jones13053215
Forrest12879231
Lauderdale11244292
Lowndes10148171
Lamar9972122
Pearl River8569208
Lafayette8008136
Hancock7110107
Oktibbeha6764117
Washington6756146
Neshoba6350200
Monroe6304156
Warren6267159
Panola6036122
Pontotoc599292
Bolivar5960143
Marshall5917115
Union558885
Pike5424133
Lincoln5192127
Alcorn509388
George454766
Scott447392
Leflore4377138
Tippah431780
Itawamba429192
Prentiss429074
Copiah423883
Simpson4238108
Wayne419663
Tate418999
Adams4174109
Yazoo411486
Sunflower4057104
Covington404891
Marion399699
Leake389784
Coahoma385996
Newton360273
Grenada3489100
Stone342657
Tishomingo320987
Attala318285
Jasper308261
Winston298191
Clay282672
Chickasaw277464
Clarke271784
Holmes257685
Calhoun256939
Smith241546
Yalobusha215447
Tallahatchie213849
Walthall203457
Lawrence202431
Greene202045
Perry195053
Amite191251
Webster191141
Noxubee173437
Montgomery168652
Jefferson Davis164041
Carroll158936
Tunica146533
Benton137531
Kemper136538
Claiborne124134
Choctaw123824
Humphreys122036
Franklin114127
Quitman100925
Wilkinson98335
Jefferson85832
Sharkey61620
Issaquena1916
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 757893

Reported Deaths: 12784
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1082301712
Mobile694251158
Madison47738562
Baldwin35347420
Shelby34758281
Tuscaloosa32576495
Montgomery32249645
Lee21576200
Calhoun19621363
Morgan19061307
Etowah18363413
Marshall17028252
Houston15881337
St. Clair14724270
Limestone13908178
Elmore13812239
Cullman13756228
Lauderdale12909263
Talladega12124200
DeKalb11705220
Walker10047303
Autauga9371119
Blount9272146
Jackson8970132
Coffee8550150
Colbert8229160
Dale8162142
Escambia632298
Tallapoosa6255165
Covington6214153
Chilton6152128
Russell586753
Franklin558292
Chambers5155127
Dallas4569173
Marion4490114
Clarke447070
Pike439188
Geneva415999
Lawrence4002101
Winston399982
Bibb388975
Barbour334667
Marengo317778
Monroe306844
Butler305878
Pickens296166
Henry288550
Randolph288255
Hale282981
Cherokee275649
Fayette268569
Washington241844
Crenshaw226962
Clay219260
Macon211154
Cleburne205746
Lamar184638
Conecuh173337
Lowndes167856
Coosa160031
Wilcox153033
Bullock145642
Perry132430
Sumter122635
Greene117941
Choctaw71925
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