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.

Two Marijuana Legalization Initiatives in Mississippi: 1 Medical, 1 Full

Two Marijuana Legalization Initiatives in Mississippi: 1 Medical, 1 Full

Medical marijuana has been legalized in nearly half of the United States, and a handful of others have enacted very limited bills legalizing the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil. Voters in Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, and two more states and Washington D.C. joined them in approving full marijuana legalization measures in the 2014 election. Now, two separate initiatives in Mississippi are working to join this marijuana law reform movement that seems to be sweeping across the nation.

A bill to legalize medical marijuana through legislative action has been introduced for the 2015 legislative session, and an organization is working to place a  full legalization amendment on the 2016 ballot.

The medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 2318, introduced by Senator Deborah Dawkins, has been assigned to the Public Health and Welfare Committee. Under this bill, patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, wasting syndrome, severe pain and other debilitating medical conditions would be legally permitted to use marijuana for medicinal purposes if a state-licensed physicians recommends it. While SB 2382 does not establish a system for licensing and regulating any medical marijuana dispensaries, patients would be permitted to cultivate up to 3 mature plants and 4 immature plants at one time.

It has not yet been determined whether this medical marijuana bill will receive a hearing in 2015. Mississippi constituents who want to see the medical marijuana bill receive a hearing can contact the chairperson of the Public Health and Welfare Committee, Dean Kirby, at (601) 359-3234 or email [email protected]

On the other side of the fence, a group called Team Legalize if working to gather signatures to place a full legalization measure on the 2016 ballot. This initiative wants cannabis to be regulated in the same manner as alcohol. The group has referenced the racial disparity in marijuana arrests and potential economic impacts that come with legalization as motivation for the cause outside of the medicinal value for patients. JB Payne, a representative of Team Legalize reported to WREG,

“It [the initiative] encompasses a broad spectrum from social justice to the economy to the medical benefits.”

The recreational marijuana measure legalizes the use of cannabis for adults, and establishes a retail marijuana market. This amendment would increase the sales tax on retail marijuana by 7 percent, all of which would go to the Mississippi public school system.

Team Legalize has just started the signature collection process. They must acquire almost 21,500 signatures from voters in five different districts, and this must be completed by October 2 in order to place the measure on the 2016 ballot.

If SB 2318 is approved in 2015, Mississippi lawmakers would make history as being the first to legalize marijuana legislatively. If the medical marijuana bill is not approved in 2015, the marijuana legalization momentum in the Magnolia State will not end because there is another initiative right behind it.

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