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.

Marijuana Legalization Effort Begins in Mississippi

Marijuana Legalization Effort Begins in Mississippi

The 2014 midterm election marked monumental success for the movement to end marijuana prohibition in the United States with two more states, one district and one territory approving legalization measures. Before and since then, initiatives have been mobilizing in many more states. Now, an effort in Mississippi is joining the full legalization movement.

The only federally approved marijuana farm in the country, providing testable product for the few lucky enough to be granted research access, is operated by the green thumbs at the University of Mississippi, and has been since 1968. Mississippi is also one of 18 states where personal marijuana possession is decriminalized, and punishable by a civil fine rather than jail time. As of this year, certain high CBD, low THC forms of medical marijuana have also been legalized for patients suffering from qualifying, debilitating medical conditions. It seems as though total legalization may be the next step for the Magnolia State.

At the beginning of December, language for the legalization measure was registered with the secretary of state. In order to ensure the measure makes it onto the 2016 ballot, the organizers must collect a minimum of 107,000 signatures from Mississippi residents, and this must be completed by October 2015.

One of the initiative organizers, Kelly Jacobs, explained her logic behind the measure that would regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol, in an interview with the Jackson Free Press,

“With alcohol, nobody’s going to ask you when you go to the store how much beer you’re buying and what you’re going to do with it because it’s none of their business. Just like if you’re going to have a wine cellar, nobody’s going to ask you how much you’re going to put in there.”

The language used in this amendment legalizes, regulates and taxes the retail sale of cannabis to adults aged 21 years and older. With this initiative, recreational cultivators would be permitted to have up to nine plants. Anyone growing more than nine plants will qualify as a cannabis farmer, a position that comes with a $25 annual fee which is payable to the local city or county. Retail dispensaries will be required to pay a fair $1,000 for an operating license.

It will be interesting to see if Mississippi will be added to the list of states with legalization measures on the 2016 ballot.


photo credit: ground speak

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