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New marijuana initiative almost goes up in smoke

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A group seeking to gain support for a marijuana ballot initiative almost had their efforts thwarted by another technicality, this time regarding public notice requirements.

Dr. David Allen of Moss Point, Miss. is the spearhead of Initiative 77, which moves to amend the state constitution to legalize and decriminalize possession, use, and cultivation of cannabis, hemp, and other derivatives.

The proposed ballot summary is as follows:

“Initiative Measure 77 would decriminalize certain cannabis/hemp possession, use (by adults and minors), and cultivation; authorize studies and a 7% sales tax on cannabis/hemp; authorize cannabis/hemp smoking wherever tobacco smoking is permitted; preempt local regulation; restrict local zoning; require release of non-violent prisoners incarcerated for cannabis-associated offenses and expungement of such convictions; authorize reparations; and override Initiative 65. It would also require creation of certain entities to carry out the provisions of the measure.”

Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office is tasked with publication of legal notices before an initiative can legally begin gathering the necessary signatures. In a news release, the Secretary of State’s Office said that the notice was sent to the Mississippi Press Association for decimation to various newspapers around the state. An affiliate, Mississippi Press Services, failed to place the notices in 5 papers, including two on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Layne Bruce, who serves as executive director of both MPA and MPS, was quoted in the release saying, “We will work diligently to avoid this kind of oversight in the future.”

The required public notices about Initiative 77 are to be published in the five remaining newspapers by May 13. Initiative organizers have one year to gather signatures once the public notices are correctly published.

This new initiative would effectually replace Initiative 65, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters in November 2020.

The future of Initiative 65 remains uncertain, as a lawsuit currently before the Mississippi Supreme Court filed by Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler has challenged the method that the initiative signatures were gathered.

The Mississippi Legislature failed to address the fact that the state had lost a Congressional District following redistricting in 2011.  The language of the mandates create a “mathematical impossibility”, Butler’s complaint stated, since the required one-fifth of signatures from each district can’t be evenly spread across only four congressional districts.

The Supreme Court decision on Butler’s suit has the fate of more than just Initiative 65 in the balance, with six active ballot initiatives, enacted and supported by voters across the state, awaiting the judgement.

Weigh in!  What are your thoughts on Initiative 77?

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Thomas Parker contributed to this story.

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