Mississippians voted to adopt a state new flag and legalized medical marijuana in the state on Election Day.
Voters had to decide between two medical marijuana initiatives, and they chose Initiative 65, which is less restrictive on medical marijuana use than the other initiative. A passed initiative does not go into effect until 30 days from when the Secretary of State officially declares the results of the vote.
Voters also approved a flag containing a magnolia and the words “In God We Trust.” In late June, the Mississippi legislature retired the former state flag, which contained the Confederate battle emblem. An appointed commission chose a new design for the flag.
Medical marijuana initiatives
Initiative 65 amends the state constitution to allow patients with debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer and epilepsy, to use medical marijuana, according to a Secretary of State brochure. The initiative is the result of a petition that more than 100,000 people signed, according to the Associated Press.
Medical marijuana can be taxed no more than the state sales tax rate, and tax revenue will go towards the marijuana program.
If the other initiative, Initiative 65A, had passed, it would have created a medical marijuana program that lawmakers could regulate.
According to election results, Lauderdale County voters showed support for a medical marijuana program.
Voters were first asked on the ballot whether they wanted to approve either initiative or whether they were opposed to both initiatives.
About 66 percent of Lauderdale County voters opted for approval of either, while about 33 percent were against both initiatives, according to unofficial county results.
Voters were then asked whether they wanted to vote for Initiative 65 or Initiative 65A.
About 73 percent of Lauderdale County voters chose Initiative 65, while about 27 percent cast their votes for Initiative 65A. Some voters also did not answer this question, as there were 4,064 less votes cast in this question than in the first medical marijuana question.
The Mississippi State Department of Health is tasked with enforcing the amendment.
Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said he's waiting to see how the initiative will be implemented.
“The voting public has spoke, and that’s our method of establishing guidelines for the state of Mississippi,” he said, “and we’ll move forward.”
“We will receive our directions from them concerning what method of identification is going to be issued,” Sollie said, “and what we need to do to inform our deputies on if there’s a violation, what we’re supposed to do, with the state health department.”
Meridian resident Stacy Henderson supports the legalization of medical marijuana. He said he lost his father to lung cancer. He hopes the initiative will “help the patients that need it.”
“If it helps them, let them decide,” he said.
When lawmakers retired the old state flag, they made it a requirement that the new flag contain the words “In God We Trust” and that it not include the Confederate battle emblem.
The new flag meets both these criteria and includes 20 white stars, which represent Mississippi’s status as the twentieth state.
Cyrus Ben, tribal chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, said last week that the gold star on the flag represents the first peoples, or the Native Americans who occupied Mississippi before it became a state.
According to Mississippi Today, the flag commission voted in early September to choose the flag that was on the ballot. Nearly 3,000 designs were originally submitted.
About 80 percent of Lauderdale County voters said “yes” to the new design and 20 percent said “no.”
If the state’s voters had not approved the flag design, the commission would have had to choose another design and present it to voters next year, according to Mississippi Today.
State Rep. Charles Young (D-District 82) said he's pleased about the new flag.
“I am happy that the people have had an opportunity to voice their opinion on the choice that the flag commission made,” he said, “and I’m happy that the people of Mississippi have approved it.”
The flag is not yet the official flag for the state. Young said that once the Legislature meets again in January, it will have to pass a law making the state officially adopt the flag.
Stephen Wilson, an attorney who lives in Meridian, voted for the new design. He said it was one of the better designs that the commission was considering and called it “distinctive.”
“I’m glad that the committee did not do what a lot of states do and have a blue flag with a state seal in the middle,” he noted. “I think that that’s the most generic kind of flag that there is.”
Wilson said the flag is a chance to “do a little bit of re-branding” for the state.
“I think that it’s gonna be helpful in attracting businesses,” he said.