Not one, but two medical marijuana initiatives are set to appear on the ballot this November in Mississippi.
Initiatives 65 and 65A would amend Mississippi’s state constitution to allow patients with certain qualifying conditions to access medical marijuana after having been approved by a licensed physician.
The process of getting these amendments on the ballot began in September 2019, when the Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign submitted 214,000 signatures collected from local Mississippians in support of the initiative. In order for an initiated constitutional amendment to make it to the ballot in The Magnolia State, sponsors are required to garner signatures equal to 12 percent of the total votes in the previous year’s gubernatorial race. For 2020, the number required was 86,185.
When voters show up to the polls in November, they will face a two-part question. First, they will be asked to vote for “either measure” if they support either initiative 65 or 65A, or “neither measure” if they want neither measure to pass.
Regardless of the answer to the first question, voters will then be asked which of the two initiatives they prefer. If the “either measure” gets the most votes, then the version of the initiative that received majority support will be enacted.
The Differences Between 65 and 65A
Initiative 65 contains much more specific language regarding the stipulations around who can use medical marijuana, and how much they can possess at a time, than its alternative 65A.
Under initiative 65 there are 22 specified conditions that could qualify a patient for access to medical marijuana including cancer, epilepsy, PTSD, HIV, and more. Patients would be allowed to possess 2.5 ounces at a time, and would be prohibited from smoking cannabis in public spaces. Medical marijuana sales would be taxed at the state’s current sales tax rate of 7 percent, and the costs of a medical marijuana patient ID card would be capped at $50.
In contrast, Initiative 65A makes no specifications for qualifying conditions, tax rates, possession limits, restricts medical marijuana usage only to “terminally ill patients,” and would require medical marijuana treatments to be overseen by a physician. Because of the vagueness of the language in 65A, many of these details would need to be decided by the state legislature. House Democrats have made the argument that 65A is “designed to confuse voters by placing a similar initiative on November’s ballot to dilute the vote to legalize medical marijuana. … The sole intention of HCR 39 [65A] is to mislead and confuse voters and kill a measure for which the majority of Mississippians are in favor.”
Support for Initiative 65
In a poll conducted by Millsaps College and Chism Strategies, 67 percent of Mississippians expressed support for an initiative that would allow patients to use medical marijuana.
State Representative Joel Bomgar (R) has come out in support of the initiative saying, “legalizing medical marijuana just makes sense.”
Representative Bomgar is quoted saying:
“Almost everybody seems to know somebody who could have benefited from medical marijuana or who lives in another state and did benefit from medical marijuana. When you have almost everybody in Mississippi that knows somebody, has an experience, or knows someone in another state, it just starts to make no sense to anyone that 33 states allow medical marijuana and Mississippi is one of 17 that does not.”
Opposition to Initiative 65
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell is worried that legalized medical marijuana would make more work for the officers in his department. Ezell said, “The sheriff’s office now answers between 26 and 2,800 calls a month. You add marijuana to this mix and, you know the teenagers and young adults, they’re gonna get it. It’s just like we talked about earlier with the brownies and the gummies and all the things they bring back from Colorado. We’ve made a number of arrests since I’ve been in office.”
Member of the Mississippi State Department of Health’s board of directors, Edward Langton, doesn’t believe Initiative 65 is the right way to bring medical marijuana to his state and is skeptical of its proponents. “Wealthy millionaires are trying to establish a new industry, a cartel in Mississippi for marijuana. That’s basically what it boils down to. When people spend $3 million, you can’t say they woke up that morning to be compassionate and provide something medical for people, to make them better.” Langton said.
High school student CJ Harris has been responding well to cannabis treatment for his epilepsy. But school rules prohibit taking his medication on campus. The rule has forced additional debate over Georgia’s medical marijuana laws, which have already caused controversy, and CJ is being used an example.
CJ is able to play sports and travel with his high school basketball team, but his epilepsy could surface at any time. “I wake up every morning and I pray, ‘Please don’t let nothing happen today. Please don’t let nothing happen today,’” said CJ. After prescription drugs failed to control CJ’s seizures, he began a cannabis treatment regimen in January.
Curtis Harris, CJ’s father, said,
“He’s going from having two seizures a month or one seizure a month, and now he hasn’t had any? That’s like, wow.”
But taking take a lunchtime dose of cannabis oil means CJ has to leave the school’s campus in order to take his life-saving treatment. “So I’ve got to come pick him up every day, check him out of school, bring him to the house,” said Harris.
A statement by the Houston County Board of Education reiterated school policy. “Per the Safe and Drug Free Schools federal law, the oil may not be brought onto school grounds.” Schools that allow medical marijuana on campus risk losing vital federal funding. Harris also mentioned that the private school his son was previously enrolled in allowed medical marijuana on campus.
When medical marijuana was legalized in Georgia in 2015, the program was limited to low-THC treatments reserved for patients with eight qualifying conditions. The biggest problem was access, since the law only legalized cannabis oil and did not set up any sort of regulatory agency or provide framework for a cannabis industry. Patients and parents of sick children have been forced to travel to other states to obtain cannabis medications, risking federal prosecution for drug trafficking.
Georgia state Rep. Allen Peake (R), who has spearheaded Georgia’s medical marijuana legislation, expects that the clashing of state and federal law will continue. “CJ’s case is not going to be isolated,” he said. “There are kids all over the state who are going to be facing the same issue, particularly now that autism is added to the list of qualifying conditions.” Peake has actually gone under the radar to help obtain the cannabis oil on behalf of registered medical marijuana patients in Georgia. While Peake said he would like schools to change their policies in the best interests of their students, the loss of federal funding can devastate a public school’s budget.
State bill SB 16, which passed earlier this year, expanded the number of qualifying conditions but still neglected to provide an in-state source for medical marijuana. Roughly 1700 patients are enrolled in the state program.
Even if the state manages to develop a thriving medical marijuana program that allows cannabis oil to be manufactured in the state, prohibiting medical marijuana treatment on school campuses still puts children at risk, especially those that could end a child’s life in an instant.
“It’s hard because you don’t know if this is your last breath your child is taking. You just don’t know,” said Harris.
As it currently stands in Iowa, the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes is so limited and constrained that it’s hard to imagine it even being helpful. Iowans with a specific form of epilepsy are allowed to use it to treat their symptoms; however, it’s a catch 22. Even with a physician’s prescription, medical marijuana is illegal to grow, manufacture, or distribute within Iowa. To top it off, crossing states lines with cannabis is a federal offense. In essence, patients using cannabis for medicinal purposes legally are only able to obtain it illegally. What has been frustrating from the beginning for people who need cannabis to treat their health conditions and politicians alike is how to proceed in finding a solution to the confusion. On Saturday, April 22nd, lawmakers made a deal to expand their medical marijuana program. It will need to be approved by the state’s governor, Terry Branstad. But even if it’s approved, will the Iowa medical cannabis expansion approved by lawmakers really help?
The Current Law
The Medical Cannabidiol Act went into effect July 1st, 2014. Probably one of the most stringent laws enacted in any of the states that allow cannabis for medicinal use, only people diagnosed with intractable epilepsy are allowed to use it. In addition to this, they are only allowed to use the non-psychoactive form, CBD, as an oil. While the law may protect patients and caregivers from prosecution, it has clearly neglected the legalities involved with obtaining the medicine. It also strictly limits the dosage and use of it.
Despite the “protection” of the law, patients and/or caregivers who wish to obtain medicine have to do so illegally. It’s currently illegal to produce or manufacture CBD oil in Iowa. This is where the “protection” that’s offered falls flat. Procuring the oil involves crossing state lines, which is a felony. So despite it being lawful to possess with the proper paperwork, caregivers and patients have to face the fact that breaking federal law is their only way of obtaining it.
In the eyes of those who need it and those of many lawmakers, the law is an epic fail.
The Proposed Changes
Recognizing that the current law does not address the issues of how to obtain medicinal cannabis and allowing its use for other medical conditions that it’s known to help, lawmakers passed a bill in the wee morning hours of Saturday, April 22nd in hopes of expanding the program. Democrats and Republicans alike both acknowledged the need for the expansion and for more specific guidelines. Democrat Representative John Forbes, a retired pharmacist, pointed out that cannabis can potentially help very sick people who otherwise don’t always benefit from pharmaceutical medications. Republican Representative, Jarad Klein, concurs, adding that there are too many sick people in the state of Iowa who are missing out on its beneficial relief.
Included in the new proposal, 15 more medical conditions would be allowed to be treated with medicinal cannabis. While this is a big jump from the current law, it’s still quite restrained in comparison to other states, like Michigan, where the list of qualifying conditions is quite extensive. However, the Medical Cannabidiol Advisory Board that will have to be established in the Department of Public Health would be able to add other qualifying conditions to the list over time. They would also be able to recommend raising the 3 percent THC limit that is currently allowed in medicinal oil.
The new proposal also addresses the fact that Iowans have no way of legally obtaining their medicine under the current law. If it’s signed into law, the Department of Public Health would be allowed to choose up to two manufacturers and five distributors. They would legally be able to produce and sell cannabis oil, so long as it contains no more than 3 percent THC. In order to legally obtain the medicine, patients would require the approval of an Iowa-licensed physician.
This new proposal is a narrower view of the proposal that was passed earlier in the week by the Senate. Having passed with a wide margin of 45-5 just days before it was sized-down by Republicans in the House, it would have included more medical conditions that could be treated with cannabis. It also would have done away with the 3 percent cap on the THC level, which some politicians feel robs very sick patients of the true extent of the medicines potential for relief.
The fate of this proposal is uncertain and awaits the approval of Governor Terry Branstad. If he signs it, it will go into effect immediately. While not the proposal that the people of Iowa and many of its lawmakers were hoping for, it at least addresses the failure of the current law and provides some progressive measures. However, with the restrictions that will remain in place, like cannabis only being allowed in oil form, Iowa has a long way to go to catch up with the numerous other states that have adopted more generous legislation in regards to medical marijuana.
Schools in Colorado must allow students in need of medical marijuana’s health benefits to use medical cannabis products in school.
Colorado’s Senate unanimously voted 35-0 in favor of the bill last Tuesday. Governor Hickenlooper has issued support for the bill and will sign it into law,
A year ago, a similar amendment was signed into that allowed nurses and parents to administer medical marijuana to students, but did not force schools to allow medical marijuana for students. Given the option to agree with this permitted use, Colorado’s school districts would not agree to let students medicate in school–so the issue was pushed a step further by advocates and parents.
Likewise, this new bill requires all of Colorado’s schools to allow medical marijuana derivative medicines like tinctures, patches, and edibles. Students are still not allowed to smoke medical cannabis in school, however.
For Colorado’s students with illnesses like epilepsy and their family’s, this bill provides a major sigh of relief. They will no longer be forced to choose between attending school and utilizing their medical marijuana.
Colorado joins New Jersey as the second state to officially permit cannabis use in all schools.
Pennsylvania is feeling sweet today as the Keystone State has officially become America’s 24th medical marijuana state!
As expected, Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill into law that makes medical marijuana law in the Keystone State. The bill allows medical marijuana prescribed for 17 illnesses including epilepsy, cancer, and Multiple Sclerosis, but like in New York, does not permit patients to smoke dried cannabis flowers. Instead, patients will ingest cannabis in concentrated forms like capsules, vaporized oils or liquid tinctures.
The state expects it could take as long as two years for Pennsylvania’s new law to result in a regulated retail system with licensed dispensaries. That delay is unfortunate, but Pennsylvania’s many medical marijuana patients can take solace knowing that relief is on the way. Here’s what the pro-cannabis governor had to say about this monumental bill:
Clearly, Governor Wolf represents the kind of forward-thinking legislator who understands the need for safe access in his state. Most notably, Pennsylvania’s new law will bring relief to its many epileptic patients that campaigned for the change and shed tears last week when the House approved this bill.
On a national scale, this news means America remains just one state away from reaching the “half of the country now has medical marijuana” tipping point. Every East Coast state north of Virginia now has some form of medical marijuana law in place.
Florida should add to that tally come November while hopefully the Carolinas and Virginia aren’t too far behind.