Mississippi is in the news for all the wrong reasons as the state has been taking a strong stance against human rights. When presented with the choice to be forward-thinking and empathetic, Mississippi prefers to refuse and instead shoot itself—and the rest of America—in the foot. Not only did Mississippi introduce Dobbs v. Jackson to the Supreme Court, which challenges Roe v. Wade and could cost all American women their right to a legal, safe abortion, but the state also struck down legal marijuana that was approved by referendum last November.
Mississippi had been the first state from the Deep South to legalize medical marijuana through a ballot measure that received resounding approval from nearly 70% of Mississippi residents, including a large swath of the Republican electorate. The reason why legal marijuana backed by a supermajority of voters was overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court last week is simultaneously ridiculous and malevolent.
When Mississippi instated citizen initiatives to put issues on the ballot, the state had five congressional districts. The state constitution requires that the congressional districts must each represent 20% of the signatures on the initiative, making it necessary to gather support from all five districts. However, in 2000, Mississippi dropped one congressional district. The state now only has four districts, but the constitution still requires that signatures come from five different districts—which is mathematically impossible.
One could assume that the justices simply followed the letter of the law, and that their hands were tied because the law contradicts itself. That is not the case. Mississippi’s Secretary of State, Michael Watson, who certified the results of the marijuana ballot initiative, provided a clear solution. Watson argues that, when Mississippi lost one district for the purpose of electing representatives, it did not actually reduce the number of districts for the purpose of gathering signatures for citizen initiatives.
It is, in fact, the state Supreme Court that is overstepping its rights by claiming that district borders drawn to determine one purpose must absolutely share the same borders as district borders drawn for different purposes. But that is wrong, as it had already been determined in 2009, when the question was debated and answered by then-Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. Jim Hood, along with then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, found that the “old” five congressional districts still exist for the purpose of citizen initiatives, as they only exist to spread out geographical distribution, ensuring that no area of the state is left without a voice. In conclusion, the problem itself does not exist. This conflict was manufactured by conservative justices to strike down a measure that went against their preexisting ideology.
This is something that is outlined by the three justices who sided with the Secretary of State and who recognized that striking down legal marijuana is ridiculous. The citizen initiative was carried out to the best of the organizers’ ability despite the law contradicting itself; all areas of the state were represented in the original petition that put the question on the ballot, thus respecting the spirit of the state constitution; and, once the question was on ballot, it received support from a bipartisan supermajority of voters. The voice of the people has been heard, and it is loudly demanding cannabis reform. The Mississippi Supreme Court did not like what they heard and chose to shush the people.
The final decision ended up with a 6-3 vote, with the minority being the voice of reason. Therefore, cannabis was criminalized again because six elderly conservatives don’t like legal marijuana. Justices Randolph, King, Coleman, Beam, Ishee and Griffis opposed legal weed, while justices Kitchens, Maxwell and Chamberlin argued in favor of legal medical marijuana. All of the justices who opposed marijuana, except Coleman, were appointed by a Republican governor, while two of three proponents of marijuana were independently elected.
In the minority decision, Justice Kitchens writes, “the right of the people to amend the constitution through initiative [was] eviscerated [on a] whim. […] The majority confidently and correctly points out that, ‘[n]owhere therein does the Constitution allow amendment by the Supreme Court.’” He continues: “Yet the majority does just that—stepping completely outside of Mississippi law—to employ an interpretation that not only amends but judicially kills Mississippi’s citizen initiative process.”
Beyond marijuana being struck down, the consequences of this ruling are far-reaching and potentially devastating. It effectively renders nil every single citizen initiative in Mississippi until the state Constitution is rewritten. All referendums, which are a key component of democracy, have been preemptively canceled by the Supreme Court—and confusion has been sown regarding the successful ballot initiatives that passed in the 21 years since Mississippi lost one congressional district. When a ballot initiative representing on four districts was approved in 2011 to suppress liberal votes, it was not shot down for only representing four congressional districts; in 2014, another initiative legalized hunting and fishing across the state, also under the same circumstances as the initiative legalizing marijuana, but that was not worth shooting down for the conservative court either. But apparently, shooting down legal marijuana is more important for Mississippi Republicans than any other of the now-illegal ballot initiatives that occurred in the past two decades, and it is more important than allowing their own citizens a voice in the democratic process.
In a frighteningly prophetic quote, author David Frum wrote, “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” This week, the Mississippi Supreme Court proved how correct this statement truly is.
On the somewhat bright side, the reaction of the public opinion following this decision has been swift and extreme: A survey found that 78% of Mississippi voters disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision, 60% support a special session to pass legal marijuana through the legislature, and a plurality of voters support impeaching at least one of the six justices that overturned medical marijuana. It is unclear where Republican Gov. Tate Reeves stands on the issue.