Analysis: Reeves on board to jumpstart the initiative process


Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, center, expresses his gratitude for law enforcement during COVID-19, during a press conference at the Walter Sillers Building in Jackson, Mississippi, Monday, December 20, 2021 (Eric Shelton / The Clarion- General Ledger via AP)


Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said he would support efforts to revive the initiative process, months after the state’s Supreme Court ruled the process outdated and invalid.

The question could arise during the legislative session which begins in January.

“I think access to the ballot is important,” Republican Reeves said in response to questions at a press conference last week.

“I don’t think a person writing a check for $ 2 million or $ 3 million on an issue to put it in our state’s constitution is the right way to do it,” he said. “But I think citizens should have access to the ballot, and it should be done in a way where it is difficult to participate in the ballot but it is possible.”

Since the 1990s, Mississippi had used a process of initiative that allowed people to propose constitutional amendments. If they gathered enough signatures from each congressional district, the initiative could go to a ballot.

The court struck down the initiative process in May, when it issued a ruling that also rejected a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative six months earlier.

Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler challenged the medical marijuana measure shortly before the November 2020 election, arguing it was incorrectly on the ballot because signatures had collected from the five former congressional districts of Mississippi instead of the current four.

After a hearing of detailed legal arguments, six of the nine judges agreed. Their decision halted the state health department’s work in developing a medical marijuana program. He also left Mississippi without a process of initiative.

Some proposed initiatives were left in limbo by the Supreme Court decision.

People had been collecting signatures for months on an initiative that would put several proposed state flag designs on the ballot. The effort was promoted by those unhappy that lawmakers in 2020 withdrew the last state flag in the United States that included the Confederate Battle Emblem.

Days before the Supreme Court ruling, medical professionals announced they were starting to collect signatures on an initiative to expand Medicaid. They were trying to bypass the Republican-led Legislature, which flatly rejected extending the government’s health insurance program to people in low-paying jobs without private insurance. The expansion of Medicaid is an option as part of the health care overhaul promulgated in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama; Mississippi is one of a dozen states that reject it.

Medical marijuana remains an unsolved problem.

A small group of lawmakers spent months negotiating a proposal similar to the initiative endorsed by voters. House and Senate leaders urged Reeves to call a special legislative session during the fall so the proposal could be enacted, but Reeves never did.

At last week’s press conference, the governor said he would veto the current proposal because it could allow hundreds of thousands of people access to large amounts of marijuana – enough, has he said, to make 1.2 billion joints a year in the state of about 3 million people.

“If there are 1.2 billion seals floating around the Mississippi in a year, I think it’s no longer medicinal, it’s no longer for the purpose of helping those who need it most, and it becomes recreational, ”Reeves said.

He said the widespread availability of marijuana could hurt economic development by discouraging people from working. Mississippi already has a low labor force participation rate among working-age residents.

Reeves said he wanted a medical marijuana program to include tighter control by doctors and a role for pharmacists. Lawmakers who negotiated the proposal say they did so in good faith, seeking compassionate relief for people with debilitating conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or cancer.


Emily Wagster Pettus has been covering Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter:

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