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Mississippi’s November Ballot Will Include Two Medical Marijuana Initiatives

Mississippi’s November Ballot Will Include Two Medical Marijuana Initiatives

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.

How Cannabis Eases Suffering for HIV/AIDS Patients

How Cannabis Eases Suffering for HIV/AIDS Patients

Millions of people live with HIV/AIDS every day; at the end of 2015 there were over 36 million worldwide suffering from the disease. While modern medical advances have produced quite effective long-term medications to reduce viral loads and extend the life span of those with HIV/AIDS, these medications come with a myriad of side effects. Depending on the patient and the medication, these side effects can range from diarrhea and dizziness to nausea, vomiting, nerve problems, generalized pain, and fatigue. Recent studies have studied the effects of cannabis on many of these negative side effects, and have shown that cannabis can significantly ease the suffering caused by the extensive side effects of HIV/AIDS and the medications that go along with it.

One 2014 study in Canada identified that, among the participants in its study, 38.5 percent used cannabis while undergoing treatment for HIV/AIDS. This study found that, among those cannabis users, over 80 percent reported that cannabis relieved their HIV-related symptoms of stress and pain. These patients reported spending an average of approximately $105 on cannabis each month; compared to the thousands of dollars monthly it can cost a Canadian, for example, to pay for the other related medical costs of HIV/AIDS. As such, on an economic basis alone, cannabis provides an efficient treatment for these generalized adverse side effects of HIV/AIDS medications.

Loss of Appetite

One of the earliest symptoms of HIV/AIDS is a loss of appetite, often with an associated rapid weight loss. This symptom can continue and worsen when patients start taking medication to treat the disease. Loss of appetite might sound demure, but the resulting decrease in nutrients and body weight can exacerbate other HIV-related symptoms and put patients at risk for other infections. Cannabis is an especially effective treatment for this particular symptom, as it was shown in a 2007 study. In this study, cannabis increased both daily caloric intake as well as body weight – an impressive feat considering the other side effects of HIV medications, such as nausea and vomiting, that exacerbate the typical loss of appetite many HIV/AIDS patients deal with daily.

Pain

One of the trademark symptoms of HIV/AIDS is pain – specifically peripheral neuropathic pain, meaning pain related to the nerves. Many patients experience this pain in their toes and feet, and describe it as aching or burning or pins and needles. The treatment of this pain is usually completed using anticonvulsants and analgesics, or in the case of severe pain, narcotics.

One study looked at the effect of cannabis on this HIV-induced nerve pain, with fifty patients smoking cannabis three times daily for five days. After this five day period, patients reported a 34 percent reduction in pain. This is especially significant, as this reduction in pain is comparable to oral drugs typically used to treat this kind of neuropathic pain, showing that cannabis is an effective alternative to long-term narcotics.

Viral Load

While many studies have shown the positive effects of cannabis on specific symptoms of HIV/AIDS, scientists have not yet identified the exact mechanism through which cannabis acts upon the disease itself. There is a large amount of evidence that suggests cannabis acts as an immune modulator and anti-viral agent, but these studies have not yet been completed in human subjects. One study, however, was able to statistically prove the effects of cannabis use on the plasma HIV RNA viral loads.

This longitudinal study, conducted over more than a decade, monitored viral loads in cannabis users – the result being that cannabis use was strongly associated with lower viral loads. Showing that cannabis has a positive correlation with reduction of HIV/AIDS viral loads supports continuing research into the physiological effects of cannabis on HIV/AIDS infected individuals, and supports the increasing legalization of cannabis as a medical treatment.

Conclusion

With more and more studies showing the positive effects of cannabis in those suffering from HIV/AIDS, it is becoming more apparent that cannabis is both an economically and medically viable treatment. Hopefully the continued research into both the broad effects of medical cannabis and its specific effects on widespread diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, can provide fact-based fodder for the ever-continuing debate on legalization – medical or otherwise.

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