The results in the candidate races Tuesday in Mississippi were predictable. The Republican dominance plus the state’s longstanding tradition for re-electing incumbents were both reaffirmed in the federal contests.
Donald Trump’s win in this state was called almost as soon as the polls closed, and it didn’t take too long into the evening before the re-election of Mississippi’s five congressional incumbents on the ballot, four of them Republican, was clear.
If there was a surprise in the election results, it was in the vote on the ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana.
Few people predicted how easily Initiative 65 would win approval from the voters, not even those who gathered the sufficient number of signatures a year ago to get the question on the ballot.
Two-thirds of voters said they wanted medical marijuana legalized in some form, and three-fourths of those who expressed a preference chose the option that was the most liberal in its provisions — instead of the alternative proposed by the state Legislature.
The voters ignored a broad and orchestrated effort to defeat Initiative 65. The opposition included the majority of Mississippi lawmakers, municipal and county public officials, law enforcement and medical associations, the current governor and his predecessor, and even the Mississippi State Department of Health, the agency that under the approved constitutional amendment will be in charge of setting up and regulating the program.
It may be the only proposed constitutional amendment that has ever survived in this state, much less won in a landslide, with so much vocal opposition against it.
At first glance, the magnitude of the vote for Initiative 65 reflects sympathy for those suffering from a debilitating medical condition that some doctors and patients maintain cannabis can help relieve. Most voters know somebody in just such a situation.
But the vote also shows how softening attitudes toward marijuana nationally have now reached this traditionally conservative state.
There is a growing movement in this country to treat marijuana the same way as alcohol: Make it legal but heavily regulated.
The sentiment is that, as drugs go, marijuana is more benign than most, that the biggest dangers from it come from those illicit dealers who mix it with powerful and potentially lethal additives, such as fentanyl.
Legalization replaces the criminal infrastructure with regulated and taxed dispensaries. This is a big and growing business, no doubt, and it has some known negative consequences, such as increased consumption and younger consumption of the drug. But it also would guarantee the purity and limit the potency of what is sold, just as consumers can trust that a bottle of alcohol from a liquor store won’t make them lose their eyesight.
Mississippi is going to dip its toe into the water with medical marijuana, but it probably won’t be all that long before there’s another initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, too.