Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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Oct. 7

The Greenwood Commonwealth on an initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi:

The steady opposition to legalizing medical marijuana is certain to continue up to the Nov. 3 election, when voters will weigh in on two proposed constitutional amendments.

The latest group to come out against the idea is the Mississippi Municipal League, which represents the interests of cities in the state. They actually have a reasonable argument for opposing the legal, regulated sale of medical marijuana: Cities will not get any of the sales taxes the product generates.

The MML is correct. The writers of Initiative 65, as the proposal is known, made a tactical error (or a boneheaded decision) by cutting cities out of medical marijuana’s sales tax revenue.

Initiative 65, if voters approve it, gives the Mississippi Department of Health the responsibility of overseeing a medical marijuana program. It says the department can apply an extra charge up to the state sales tax rate to the final sale of medical marijuana.

This money, however, will not be part of the state’s general fund. Initiative 65 specifically directs that this tax be put into its own fund. The Department of Health will have authority to spend the money for administration and enforcement costs of the program.

The state gives 18.5 percent of sales taxes collected in a city to that municipality. (Unincorporated or rural areas that produce sales taxes get none of it back from the state.) But since the proposed amendment directs the tax revenue from medical marijuana to be spent differently, it’s no surprise that the municipal group doesn’t want its members to lose the revenue.

Other recent criticism of Initiative 65 comes from Andy Gipson, the commissioner of agriculture and commerce. The former lawmaker said in a recent column that it would be a mistake to let the unelected people at the Department of Health make decisions about medical marijuana.

“Why in the name of anything decent would Mississippians vote to give complete and total control over medical marijuana to the Mississippi Department of Health?” Gipson asked. “Why would we vote to give complete and total control over anything to any unelected state agency?”

The answer to that question is simple: The Legislature for years chose not to address medical marijuana, probably fearing voter backlash if it considered legalizing a drug that long has been illegal.

Those fears may be accurate, but Initiative 65 is a long way from making marijuana completely legal in Mississippi. It would be limited to people with “debilitating medical conditions,” and lists 22 such conditions that qualify.

The point is that by ignoring the issue, the Legislature opened the door for advocates to gather enough signatures to put Initiative 65 to a vote of the people. Which they did.

Lawmakers then got so alarmed at the idea of letting the people decide that they came up with a medical marijuana proposal of their own. Alternative 65A is more restrictive, and it will be on the Nov. 3 ballot with Initiative 65.

The Department of Health’s board already is on record as opposing Initiative 65, meaning that the people who set policy for the department don’t want to be involved with medical marijuana. More opposition in the coming weeks is likely.

It’s hard to say whether voters will approve of selling marijuana for medical treatment. It seems like a long shot, but it may depend on how many people with a debilitating medical condition get out to vote — and especially whether the families of deceased patients whose suffering might have been helped by the drug decide this is worth a try.

Online: https://www.gwcommonwealth.com

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Oct. 6

The Vicksburg Post on discussions about building a new port in Vicksburg, Mississippi:

There is simply no way to run a headline big enough to honor the impact a new port in Vicksburg will have on the local economy. There’s just not enough ink.

For months — years actually — there has been talk, murmurs and quiet discussions about either expanding the current Port of Vicksburg or developing a new site altogether. Now, those conversations, ideas and rumblings are becoming reality.

Recently, the Vicksburg Warren County Economic Partnership shared the findings of a market analysis that not only showed what types of industries would be attracted to a new facility but the potential for new jobs that would be created. It was eye-opening and proved the concept that had long been talked about would be successful.

Local leaders and previous economic officials had long known the current facility does not have room to expand. All of its property is locked up.

Today, the Port of Vicksburg supports 21 industries and an estimated 4,000 jobs. Just think about what more industries and more jobs would mean for our community.

But even though this community knew there was need for expansion, our community was not ready to do so. We did not have the leadership, the partnership or the relationship between all of the agencies and governments needed to take on such a huge undertaking.

Today, with a strong working relationship between city, county and local economic leaders, along with strong support from state leaders, who themselves have a strong connection to Vicksburg, we are now poised to tackle such a project.

In the coming months, economic officials have said a site or sites would be selected and then additional due diligence would be needed before a master plan for a new port could be put together. It is exciting to see such an idea, once a murmur, start to become reality.

It is also exciting to see the potential our community has in not only talking the talk, but starting to walk the walk.

Online: https://www.vicksburgpost.com

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Oct. 6

The Greenwood Commonwealth on NBA players encouraging people to vote:

Many sports fans are dismayed by the growing political awareness and activism of athletes.

Whether it’s NFL players kneeling down before kickoff, or NBA players refusing to play after a police officer shot a man seven times in Wisconsin, athletes have realized they have a forum, and many have decided to use it.

Players, however, can only have a limited impact when they protest racial injustice or a fatal shooting. So a number of NBA players have settled on a way to make a bigger difference. They are actively encouraging more people to vote — after first confronting the realization that most of the players have overlooked this right themselves.

Thankfully, there’s more to it than the simple symbol of wearing a “Vote” T-shirt during pre-game warmups. NBA teams, prodded by players and their union, have held voter registration drives, and many of the franchises have volunteered their stadiums or practice facilities as polling places for the November elections.

The players, in fact, are quite representative of the voting disinterest that permeates most communities in America. Turnouts for big elections are typically in the 50-60% range of registered voters, while lesser elections attract far fewer people to polling places.

The Washington Post quoted a census survey that said only 37% of Black men under age 30 voted in the 2016 election. Participation was even lower that year among NBA players — 22%. There are some valid reasons for low NBA voting rates.

Most players’ legal residence is not in the city where they work. They are typically on the road during elections. But for the most part, the low turnout came down to a lack of interest, an unwillingness to take the time to fill out an absentee ballot and return it, and a belief that their vote doesn’t matter. True enough: One vote by itself almost never matters.

But it’s always amazing to see how many people fail to realize that a lot of single votes can add up to a very big number. With a big assist from the its players union, the NBA has done a dramatic turnaround, at least for the first step of performing this important civic responsibility.

At least 85 percent of pro basketball players are now registered to vote. Eleven of the league’s 30 teams have every member of their roster registered.

Registering is the easy part, of course. You also have to take the time to be reasonably informed on the issues. And then you have to actually vote. If the NBA players and other athletes convince more people to do this, good for them.

Although some will complain the players are trying to help Democrats, there’s nothing stopping Republicans from finding athletes — if not in basketball then in other sports — who will encourage their fans to participate, too.

The citizen lack of interest in choosing leaders is a true American malaise. A lot of people have died to protect this cherished American right, and too many people ignore these sacrifices. It would be nice if 2020’s bright spot was the start of a reversal of this trend.

Online: https://www.gwcommonwealth.com