Jasmine Cochran of Picayune speaks of coming home from a teaching position in China to care for her ailing father. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

A new poll says a majority of Mississippi voters not only want the Legislature to create a medical marijuana program like the one the state Supreme Court nullified, but they favor allowing recreational use of pot.

Nathan Shrader, chair of government and politics and director of American studies at Millsaps, said the poll shows a vast divide between Mississippi voters and politicians on marijuana and other issues.

The latest State of the State survey by Millsaps College and pollster Chism Strategies reports that 63% of those polled want the Legislature to enact something “mirroring” Initiative 65 — a medical marijuana constitutional amendment that voters passed overwhelmingly last year but the state high court shot down. It reported that 52% of those polled support recreational marijuana legalization, with 37% opposed.

READ MORE: Medical marijuana protesters call on Mississippi politicians to ‘stop the steal’

The poll reported that 20% said legalizing medical marijuana is the most important issue in how they’ll vote in the next statewide election.

The poll also reported that 52% of Mississippians support expanding Medicaid to cover roughly 200,000 working poor Mississippians. A move to put this before voters was also derailed by the recent Supreme Court ruling that declared the state’s ballot initiative process constitutionally flawed because of outdated signature gathering rules.

Despite years of debate and fizzled attempts, lawmakers have balked at allowing medical use of marijuana or at accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid despite growing movements to do both. The divide has typically fallen along partisan lines, with the supermajority GOP leadership thwarting both efforts.

READ MORE: ‘Human issue, not political’: Medicaid expansion ballot drive begins

“Mississippi voters overwhelmingly support legalizing medicinal marijuana, which was actually done by the electorate last November,” Shrader said. “They also favor legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes and expanding Medicaid by healthy margins. If
you look closely at what the voters are expressing in terms of their policy preferences, you will see they do not appear to be anywhere near the same ideological positions as the majority of the state’s elected officials. The coming months, including the 2022 legislative session, will be a test of how long the state’s elected leaders can hold positions that are greatly at odds with the majority of Mississippi’s voters.”

The poll, part of a continuing quarterly survey since 2017, was conducted May 26-28 with a sample size of 659 via cell phone and landline, weighted to reflect voter turnout in 2020 elections. The margin of error is reported at 3.82%.

The poll also reported:

  • 38% of voters believe the state is heading in the wrong direction, while 34% think the state is moving in the right direction. Just over 28% are unsure.
  • A 28-point gap exists between those who approve and disapprove of the state Legislature’s performance, with 49% disapproving and 21% approving of their work. 30% are unsure.
  • 48% disapprove of the performance of Gov. Tate Reeves, while 35% approve and 17% are undecided.
  • 64% of voters who favor expanding Medicaid do so because they believe too many Mississippians are unable to get access to the healthcare coverage they need.
  • Opponents of Medicaid expansion are almost evenly split between their concern of
    becoming overly dependent on Washington, D.C., and those who think expansion is too
    expensive for taxpayers.
  • 55% support Gov. Reeves’ decision to opt out of federal unemployment benefits that
    provided an additional $300 to help Mississippians who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. 35% oppose the decision, while 10% are unsure.
  • Less than a quarter of those who have not already received the COVID-19 vaccination say
    they are likely to get vaccinated, while 61% of those who are unvaccinated say there is
    nothing that will convince them to get the vaccine.
  • Nearly 40% of voters want the census-driven congressional and legislative redistricting
    process this year to be conducted by a non-partisan commission of citizens and experts.
    24% would like a hybrid panel of citizens and elected officials, 15% think redistricting
    should continue to be handled by the state legislature, and 22% are unsure.
  • 60% support the job police are doing in their local communities, and nearly 75% believe police should have pay raises.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.