Up in smoke: Despite setback, marijuana legalization supporters still hopeful

Published 7:00 am Thursday, January 7, 2016

TEAM LEGALIZE: Across Mississippi, volunteers with Team Legalize collect signatures to place Initiative 48 on the 2016 general election ballot. While the ballot fell short of the signatures needed, a volunteer with the local Team Legalize group said they’re not going to give up. Submitted photo.

Jodi Allbritton spent much of last year collecting signatures in Pearl River County to get ballot initiative #48 on the November 2016 general election ballot. Statewide, the initiative gained more than 12,000 certified signatures, but still fell short of the 107,000 signatures required by Dec. 29, 2015 in order for the measure to be on this year’s ballot. 

Allbritton said she was one of the hundreds of volunteers statewide with Team Legalize hoping to one day legalize and decriminalize marijuana in Mississippi. 

The cause hits close to home for Allbritton. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2014, and said she would like a more natural medicinal option in lieu of harsh painkillers. 

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Allbritton, along with three others, got together last year and collected more than 150 signatures in Pearl River County, 30 of those were certified by the circuit clerk. She said many signatures contained discrepancies, including incorrect home addresses.  

She also said that while they didn’t manage to collect the required number of signatures, the initiative got people talking about the taboo issue. 

“More people are aware of how it can help medically and how industrial hemp would help farmers,” Allbritton said. Another silver lining, she said, was that more people are now registered to vote in the county. 

Kelly Jacobs from Desoto County led Team Legalize and the push for the ballot initiative aiming to legalize marijuana across the state’s 82 counties. Jacobs said the actual number of signatures they collected was probably higher because some of the counties didn’t provide all the certified signatures.

“We had one year to collect the signatures, we had massive public support and people really wanted our initiative to pass, but the majority of people were afraid to sign the initiative because there’s this stigma with people that use marijuana,” Jacobs said. 

Jacobs faced many obstacles with the initiative from the beginning. She said many counties denied her and her volunteers access to public buildings to collect signatures, and she even received arrest threats for soliciting while she was collecting signatures on public property. 

Jacobs also faced problems with some of her volunteers.

“It’s difficult to work with volunteers in order to get an initiative on the ballot because its success depends on how well they follow through and their enthusiasm. The only initiatives that have succeeded are the ones with money and a paid staff,” Jacobs said.  

Currently, the use, creation, sale and transportation of marijuana is illegal under state and federal law, but 23 states including the District of Columbia and Guam, allow the use of medical marijuana, according to Whitehouse.gov.

While Jacobs doesn’t have plans to launch another ballot initiative in the future, she encourages others to do so. 

Allbritton hopes one day she’ll be able to choose cannabis as a medicinal option and isn’t giving up the fight.

“Nobody wants to pick up the initiative right now, but we’re not going to give up and we’re going to keep trying to educate people about cannabis,” Allbritton said. “We can do our part and write to our senators and legislators and let them know the importance of this.”

District 40 State Sen. Angela Burks Hill, a Republican, said she didn’t expect the petition to succeed.

“I do not support the legalization of recreational pot,” Hill said. However, Hill said she did support a bill, Harper Grace’s Law, which legalizes non-THC cannabis oil to treat specific medical conditions such as seizures. Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill in 2014. “The Mississippi Bureau of Investigations had no objections to the oil which has no intoxicating effect,” Hill said.