Everybody is understandably keeping an eye on the slow vote counting in the presidential election, where there remained no winner as I write Friday afternoon.
In doing so, I wonder if people in Mississippi are overlooking the tidal wave of change that hit the state on Tuesday.
In one day, voters across the state put medical marijuana into the state constitution and approved a new flag after years of arguing over the old one. Each issue won approval by a wide margin, around 70%.
To top those off, at the local level, infamously dry Walthall County approved the sale of beer and liquor products, also by a similarly wide margin.
Before the voting, I thought the medical marijuana proposal might pass, while the flag and the Walthall County votes were more likely to fail. I never expected the wide support for each of the three issues.
That’s a lesson for anybody who wants to put a hot-button issue to a referendum of the voters: Make sure it gets on one of the two general election ballots that draw the most voters — either for president, as in this year; or the one with state and local races, like last year.
If Tuesday’s results mean anything, it’s that more voters give a referendum a better chance of being approved.
The day after the results came in, I was talking with a guy who lives in Walthall County. He said he’s quitting his job to open a liquor store and medical marijuana dispensary in Tylertown. We joked that he would be a millionaire in a few years.
So let’s take a look at each of these three votes to try and explain them.
The medical marijuana approval is the easiest one to understand. Advocates successfully sold it as a way to provide relief from a number of specific, and mostly serious, health problems. Who among us has not seen a friend or relative endure pain, seizures or other health issues?
Another important factor, mentioned by Greenwood Commonwealth editor Tim Kalich in an editorial that I included in Friday’s paper, is that the growing national tolerance for marijuana apparently has made its way to Mississippi. And if we’re going to sell it, we ought to regulate it.
Even though I support using marijuana products for medical treatment, I voted against both of the amendments.
Anybody who took the time to read the proposed constitutional amendments could see that the original initiative overlooked important issues like taxation. And the alternative, as presented by the Legislature, preserved a lot more of their decision-making power but did not include any timeline for action.
Lawmakers could have, if they wished, sat on the issue for years. But the voters gave the green light to the original proposal by a wide margin.
Now onto the state flag, an issue that over the years has greatly divided Mississippi.
I thought the vote for the new flag would be close, and even wrote last week that it would not be a surprise if it got voted down.
The surprise was that 71% of voters Tuesday approved the new flag. Of all the issues on Tuesday’s ballot, this one carried the most weight.
The previous flag’s Confederate emblem, and the “hate vs. heritage” debate that it created, was never going to be resolved. The flag did not help our image nationwide, it offended many of our residents and it was time to change.
The new flag is about as inoffensive as possible. Who can object to a magnolia blossom? But its colors are attractive, and the design incorporates “In God We Trust” very well. This has turned into a pleasant success story for the state.
And then there is Walthall County’s beer and liquor vote. Again, it’s a surprise that it passed by such a big margin. OK, it’s actually a surprise that it passed at all.
My guess is that the lure of sales tax revenue appealed to a majority of voters, overriding the influence of the county’s pastors.
Tax revenue may be something to keep in mind in a decade or two, when the inevitable push to legalize recreational marijuana begins.
When you add up these three votes, you realize that in a single day, Mississippi voters approved some very significant cultural changes.
Five years ago, who would have bet that the old flag would be out, marijuana would be in and Walthall County would be wet? But here we are.