This election, supporters of medical marijuana in Mississippi get to vote on Initiative 65, which would establish a medical marijuana program similar to the more effective programs that exist in 33 US states.
Opponents of medical marijuana, meanwhile, get two shots at vetoing it.
These electoral shenanigans owe to a quirk in the Mississippi State Constitution, which allows for citizens to place initiatives on the ballot by collecting signatures, but also allows for the legislature to act upon them.
Do you really, really want medical marijuana in Mississippi? For sure?
When Mississippi activists collected over 200,000 signatures to place Initiative 65 on the ballot, the state legislature then had three options mandated by the constitution:
- Approve the initiative and it becomes law.
- Reject the initiative and leave it to the voters.
- Place an alternative initiative on the ballot alongside the initiative and leave it to voters.
Option #1, approval, was never on the table. The Republican-dominated Mississippi legislature was never going to legalize medical marijuana.
Option #2 would be the honorable move for a legislature that opposes medical marijuana. Let the voters decide in an up-or-down vote for Initiative 65.
The problem was that those lawmakers can read polls. They know medical marijuana enjoys supermajority support, even among Republicans. They’d lose an up-or-down vote on Initiative 65.
They took Option #3 and placed what’s called Initiative 65A on the ballot. This would create a medical marijuana program that’s virtually dead-on-arrival, as it leaves all the details of creating a program to that same legislature that hates it. Furthermore, it restricts smoking of cannabis only to terminally ill patients.
But that wasn’t the end of the electoral shenanigans.
Two combined votes to win, two separate votes to lose
Normally, if a state has two ballot initiatives for the same issue, the one that garners the higher majority vote takes precedence. If Initiative 65 got 55% and Initiative 65A got 54%, for example, even though both won, the first one won by more, and it goes into effect.
That put the legislature in the same bind as before — they knew that 65 would be more popular than 65A.
That’s where Measure 1 comes in. On the ballot in Mississippi, Measure 1 asks you whether or not one of those two medical marijuana initiatives should be approved.
Then, if you choose “either” for Measure 1, you must continue to selecting either 65 or 65A. If you select both or neither of the two initiatives, your “either” vote on Measure 1 is disregarded. But if you chose “neither” on Measure 1, it does not matter if you don’t choose 65 or 65A.
Think about that.
If you support a standard medical marijuana program in Mississippi, you have to remember to vote “either” on Measure 1 and vote “65” on 65 vs. 65A.
Measure 1’s “either” has to win before the vote on 65 vs 65A makes any difference.
But if you oppose a standard medical marijuana program in Mississippi, you only have to remember to vote “neither” on Measure 1.
In other words, supporters have to win two votes to win, opponents only need to win one vote for us to lose.
Then, even if supporters win the first “either” vote, opponents get another chance to win by winning the second “65 or 65A” vote.
And forgetful supporters who miss the second vote lose their first vote, while forgetful opponents who miss the second vote keep their first vote.
Does that sound like a fair and just exercise of democracy? Boy, it’s going to be hilarious when Mississippi passes Initiative 65 tomorrow, even after all these undemocratic electoral shenanigans.